Tracing a route through the recent 'ugly history' of British citizenship, this article advances two central claims. Firstly, British citizenship has been designed to fail specific groups and populations. Failure, it argues, is a design principle of British citizenship, in the most active and violent sense of the verb to design: to mark out, to indicate, to designate. Secondly, British citizenship is a biopolitics - a field of techniques and practices (legal, social, moral) through which populations are controlled and fashioned. This article begins with the 1981 Nationality Act and the violent conflicts between the police and black communities in Brixton that accompanied the passage of the Act through the British parliament. Employing Michel Foucault's concept of state racism, it argues that the 1981 Nationality Act marked a pivotal moment in the design of British citizenship and has operated as the template for a glut of subsequent nationality legislation that has shaped who can achieve citizenship. The central argument is that the existence of populations of failed citizens within Britain is not an accident of flawed design, but is foundational to British citizenship. For many 'national minorities' the lived realities of biopolitical citizenship stand in stark contradistinction to contemporary governmental accounts of citizenship that stress community cohesion, political participation, social responsibility, rights and pride in shared national belonging.
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Citizenship Studies, 14 (1), 2010, © Informa Plc