Fall 2008

Media, Culture and Citizenship Since 9/11


Barry O'Connell (Section 01)


(Also Communications 397A at the University of Massachusetts.) Millions of people in the last century and the current one have given and lost their lives in the name of nations and national identities. The common assumption is that all individuals have a national identity and such identities are essential and mutually exclusive. Yet in the U.S., “a nation of immigrants,” such an assumption can only be questionable. The events of 9/11 have made it more so when many U.S. citizens of color and U.S. Muslims become “less American” than others, along with anyone vaguely (usually wrongly) suspected of terrorist impulses. The vulnerability of citizenship rights long fought for by communities of color and non-dominant faith is redoubled. “National security” and border control have always been important in official definitions of citizenship. Perhaps part of the anxiety that followed 9/11 was the recognition that in the modern world border control could not guarantee security. In fact, however, these are problems that extend well beyond recent U.S. experience. Borders have regularly (often violently) shifted in much of the world: examples include changing European territories after the first and second World War; the many independent countries resulting from the breakup of the Soviet Union after 1989; the shifting borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan; the spillage of “ethnic cleansing” and warfare across many national borders in Africa. Given the mutability of borders, citizenship becomes problematic in terms of citizens’ rights and governments’ obligation to protect them. In the U.S. since 9/11 many traditional rights of citizenship have been limited or even eliminated: protection against arbitrary arrest, the right to a fair and speedy trial, freedom from guilt by association, the creation of invidious distinctions between naturalized and native-born citizens. We will explore these limits and the experiences of U.S. Americans and others in a world in which citizenship does not dependably protect or define individuals and their identities. How do Americans and citizens in other countries now imagine the communities to which they belong? How is citizenship refigured in public, popular, official and activist discourses? How, finally, might the study of culture and communication intervene against threats to citizenship rights in the US and beyond? To be taught at the University of Massachusetts. Fall semester. Professor O'Connell of the University of Massachusetts. Professor Henderson of the University of Massachusetts.