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date: 25 February 2021

Punishment and Citizenshiplocked

  • Michael T. LightMichael T. LightDepartment of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  •  and Jason P. RobeyJason P. RobeyDepartment of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Amid global trends of increasingly mobile populations, scholars have debated whether national citizenship status remains relevant for international migrants. Some argue that international courts have practically eliminated the differences between citizens and noncitizens through equal protection under the law, while others maintain that national membership remains an essential form of stratification in modern societies. Recent trends in immigration enforcement seem to emphasize the continuing salience of citizenship, as criminal sanctions have become increasingly commonplace in border control. With the increasing importation of criminal justice strategies into migration policy, Western societies have witnessed dramatic increases in the number of noncitizens adjudicated and punished in recent decades, a trend that has gained considerable steam in the United States under the Trump administration. For example, between the president’s inauguration (January 20, 2018) and the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2018), the number of immigration arrests increased by 42% over the same time period in 2016. Yet despite these debates and trends, the role of citizenship status has received only limited consideration within the field of criminology. In the same vein, the role of punishment has been underappreciated in the field of citizenship studies. Against this backdrop, theoretical insights from the sociology of punishment are connected with three central aspects of citizenship: (1) state sovereignty, (2) cultural understanding, and (3) group membership. Drawing these parallels to theoretical and methodological traditions within criminology will set new research paths for future scholars to understand criminology in the context of a globalizing world increasingly characterized by international migration.

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