Home Rule: National Sovereignty and the Separation of Natives and Migrants

by Sharma, Nandita. 2020. Duke University Press

Key words: nationalism, nation-states, migrants, natives, post-colonialism
Summary by Margaux Dandrifosse (IBEI)


Micro-summary: The current post-colonial world order of nation-states has impeded real decolonization and continued imperial practices through the expansion of exploitative capitalism and the framing of migrants as colonizers by territorialized natives.

Summary: In this book, the author calls for a novel world order, no longer based on national sovereign states and nationals/migrants categorisations. She builds her argument by historically tracing the separation of nationals and migrants from imperial rule to the so-called “Post-Colonial World Order” emerging after World War II.

It is argued that the separation of nationals and migrants finds its roots in indirect-rule colonialism, which divided the natives to maintain imperial power. European colonizers created a division between real natives, holding claims to territory and customs, and migrant-natives, perceived as belonging less to the territory. This separation laid the basis for nationalism as it created the association between identity, territory, and specific rights. It, therefore paved the way for the creation of nation-states and the separation between migrants and nationals. A second contribution from indirect-rule colonialism to the current order lies in the regulation of migration. At the abolition of slavery, the British colonies established migration regulations to ensure a flow of cheap, voluntary, and self-controlled labor to replace the slaves. Limits to entry into territory subsequently played a key-role in nation-building and the territorialisation of a people. It established a limited group of people with exclusive claims to sovereign territory and political legitimacy, as opposed to migrant others.

The author explains that, while the first nation-states had already imposed limits during WWI and the inter-war period, the global regulation of migration fully came into place after WWII. After the war, the last empires collapsed and the nation-state became global, as did limitations to freedom of movement. Moreover, nation-states not only erected barriers to entry for those perceived out of the nation, they also engaged in violent population displacements to eliminate the migrants from within and bring in those allegedly belonging to the nation. The imperfection of this process created the category of national minorities, living on a national territory but outside of the nation. One’s nationality became the single most important factor globally, determining rights and political legitimacy.

Accordingly, the post-colonial order was established after WWII. The main argument of the book lies in the claim that post-colonialism, with its governing practices rooted in nationalism, impedes real decolonization. Rather, it has framed decolonization as national self-determination and global capitalism, which ensures the perpetuation and increase in imperial forms of exploitation and growing inequalities both within and among nation-states. The resulting dissatisfaction and disenchantment have led migrants and foreignness to be blamed for the failures of nationalism.

This leads to the author’s final argument, namely, that the struggle for national self-determination is incessant. As the exploitation of workers increased, nationalist discourses hardened and turned into imperially-inspired claims of nativism. The true members of the nation were no longer national citizens, they were those able to show a native attachment to the territory. This has led to a sharper separation between native citizens and migrants. Moreover, it resulted in a reversal of the imperial legacy. The former colonizers turned themselves into natives, and migrants have come to be considered as the colonizers, “contaminating” the national territory. This perpetuates a form of “post-colonial racism”.

In the last part of the book, the author develops her call for action. She opposes the post-colonial order and a world based on national sovereignty and a natives/migrants separation. Rather, she argues that real decolonization, meaning the end of exploitation and racism, and freedom of movement, can be achieved through collective action, with both migrants and nationals refusing to enter into those categories.

Follow-up: In this recent book, Sharma presents a clear stance on the current world order which will undoubtedly impact on a whole range of scholarships from migration to nationalism and post-colonialism to securitization. In a similar vein, the author has published “States and human immobilization: bridging the conceptual separation of slavery, immigration controls, and mass incarceration” (2020) and the collective project “Minor keywords of political theory: Migration as a critical standpoint A collaborative project of collective writing” (2021).

Relevance for the SECUREU Project: The book provides a theoretical framework to understand the securitization of both migrants and national minorities in Europe. Right-wing parties increasingly feature a nationalist discourse rooted in nativism, according to which the Europeans are the natives of the European territory and, thereby, the only ones with a legitimate claim to political belonging and national sovereignty. Migrants are securitized through nativist speeches which framed them as dangerous colonizers. The same discourses, linking national belonging to an ancestral claim to territory, de-nationalize minorities and place them in the migrant category. Therefore, it is the growing ascendency of nativism in Europe which accounts for the securitization of both migrants and minorities, and the mounting xenophobia. It would be interesting to examine the role played by the EU in the expansion of nativist claims. Has European integration spurred nativist sentiments among the population? Are those feelings a reaction to disenchantment created by the EU project? How are imperial references used to legitimize those claims?