Politics through a web: citizenship and community unbound

Squire, Vicki and Closs Stephens, Angharad (2012). Politics through a web: citizenship and community unbound. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 30(3) pp. 551–567.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1068/d8511


What happens to citizenship when the nation and the state are not assumed to be the inevitable starting points from which politics is defined? This article considers how a refusal of the nation as political community and a questioning of the state as guarantor of rights and responsibilities reconfigure our understandings of citizenship. It does this by taking as an analytical entry point an art installation developed by artist Tomás Saraceno titled ‘14 Billions (Working Title)’, which was displayed at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead from July-October 2010. Forming an exaggerated version of a Black Widow spider’s web, this installation offers us a way of engaging politics in relational terms. Inspired by this installation, we ask: how are the categories of citizenship and community troubled, challenged or reconfigured when we address sociality and politics from a relational perspective? In which ways does ‘14 Billions’ prompt us to address questions of spatiality, power, coexistence and contestation differently from those accounts of citizenship that remain wedded to the state as a contained geographical unit and to the nation as an imaginary of political community? And finally, how might this web installation suggest an intervention into the broader problematic of ‘citizenship without community’ that forms the focus of this special issue? We address these questions by way of an engagement with the ‘lines’, ‘gaps’ and ‘tension points’ presented by ‘14 Billions’, and argue that an understanding of citizenship as based upon membership appears inadequate when we address politics through a web. In so doing, we contend that the provocation of ‘citizenship without community’ presents a challenge that does not simply demand a shift from the nation to the state or the reaffirmation of a rights-bearing subject. Rather, this provocation leads us to argue that politics involves more than a search for inclusion and recognition, whilst the web installation offers us instead a way in to thinking politics through heterogeneous sites and moments of encounter.

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