Unrecognized Citizenship: Statehood and the Oppression of Nonrecognition

Thumbnail Image
Degree type
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Graduate group
Political Science
Political Science
International and Area Studies
Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Unrecognized states
Grant number
Copyright date
Related resources
Elhajibrahim, Samah

This dissertation seeks to examine citizenship in unrecognized states. Unrecognized states are state-like entities without widespread international recognition of their proclaimed sovereignty. Unrecognized states lack external sovereignty, and thus are not full members of the international system of sovereign states. Some scholars argue that there can be no statehood without internationally recognized sovereignty. The question then arises whether it is conceptually even possible to conceive of citizenship in unrecognized states. If the answer is yes, then what kind of citizen and citizenship emerge from the context of contestation and nonrecognition? This is what this dissertation attempts to answer. The dissertation delves into the concepts and practices of citizenship, sovereignty, and statehood. It approaches citizenship as a multidimensional phenomenon and adopts Linda Bosniak’s four dimensions of citizenship, namely, legal status, rights, participation, and identity. The dissertation also considers citizenship as a spectrum rather than a singular position. It problematizes the conventional understanding of the state and sovereignty and provides an alternative approach that allows for the inclusion of unrecognized states. I argue that an unrecognized state is a state despite lacking external sovereignty. This implies that citizenship in an unrecognized state is possible, and it occurs not in the absence of a state but rather in a particular form of statehood that is constrained by the lack of recognition. I argue that unrecognized states produce a distinct form of quasi-citizenship, which I call “unrecognized citizenship”. Unrecognized citizenship emerges from the ambiguous status of the contested states that do not fit neatly into the established global order. While I affirm that nonrecognition does not render citizenship impossible, I argue that it diminishes the effectiveness of citizenship and hinders citizens’ ability to assert their rights and participate in citizenship practices. I demonstrate through different examples, and interviews conducted in 2022 in the West Bank and Gaza, how the lack of recognition disempowers citizens of unrecognized states and hinders their ability to create an accountable culture. Drawing on Hegel, Axel Honneth and Charles Taylor, among other scholars, I argue that nonrecognition is a form of international oppression, which continuously exerts power and reinforces invisibility. In exploring citizenship in unrecognized states, this dissertation provides a starting point to talk about and understand the nuances of citizens’ experiences in unrecognized spaces and gives a language with which to express that phenomenon. The dissertation contributes to a lesser-known aspect of citizenship and highlights the statuses that exist between full citizenship and statelessness.

Hirschmann, Nancy
Date of degree
Date Range for Data Collection (Start Date)
Date Range for Data Collection (End Date)
Digital Object Identifier
Series name and number
Volume number
Issue number
Publisher DOI
Journal Issue
Recommended citation