In 2000 the Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman coined the term Liquid Modernity
Which can be defined as an era of flux- a flowing state of constant interminable change: liquid uncertainty. All that was previously considered to be rigid, solid and certain struggles for legitimacy, submerged within the volatile ocean of late-modernity.
But what does this mean for the solid structures of the state and citizenship?
This might seem like an innocuous object. But it isn’t – the passport is an object that acts.
There is a deeply embedded violence in this object, designed for the purposes of state control and surveillance – a tool to monopolise the means of movement.
It upholds global inequality and immobility through its solid singular mono-national design and the arbitrary circumstances of place of birth – the birthright lottery. It is a truth making tool for national identity, which governments utilise to articulate and justify global (im)mobility, state privilege / state protection and state violence.
But this powerful object is quasi-commodified. Predominantly in three scales:
1. From state to state. Which sees the Comoros Islands sells passports to the UAE and Kuwait allowing them to deport undesirable second class citizens.
2. From passport broker to citizen. Through costly cash-for-passports programs.
3. From state to citizen. Through new programs for digital citizenship such as Estonia’s e-residency model.
In 2015, Kuwait and the UAE struck a deal with the Comoros to bulk buy Comorian passports for their Bidoon population. The bidoon are often indigenous nomads or the descendants of nomads which their host countries refuses to take responsibility for, many of which were left out of citizenship registration when Kuwait gained independence (1961) and when the UAE formed (1971). The UAE paid $10,000 / passport and assigned them to each Bidoon, allowing them to deport petty criminals and dissident voices.
This practice is legalised human trafficking facilitated by passport commodification.
Meanwhile costly mobility corridors open for the super rich through legally purchasable passports to almost any country in the world. These salesman, from companies like Henley and Partners sell British citizenship for 12 million pounds, US citizenship for 2 million dollars, German citizenship for 1 million euros and Maltese citizenship for 650 thousand euros. Citizenship is no longer a product of culture, nationality or identity but an asset that is sold and purchased globally.
But this 12 million pound citizenship package and others like it; at least starts to transcend borders and offer access to the wider populace of the globe
albeit a small portion the super-rich cosmopolitan elites. Such schemes start to dissolve its current solid mono-national form and makes moves towards a more pluralistic design.
What if we could amplify this model of commoditization to fully liquify citizenship and create an ever more inclusive form. What if citizenship took the form of a subscription based model for rights, akin to services provided by Netflix/ Spotify/ Amazon Prime. Each person would instead be the citizen of dozens of nations, accessing the best healthcare, education, transport, legal services etc from across the globe.This would decentralise power from the state and into the hands of the individual – who could pick and choose nationality as it suits them.
No longer could the Bidoon be deported from the UAE.
Perhaps this will take shape in a new form of e-residency as proposed by Estonia. For a one off fee of 100 euros you can join “a new digital nation for global citizens” and become an E-resident of e-Estonia. By 2025 they aim to have grown the e-resident population to 10 million. For which they plan to offer state privileges digitally and globally, including, education, healthcare Transport and cyber security, among others.
This scheme serve to liquefy and pluralise residency, with an inclusive outward looking unifying agenda of open (digital) borders. And, if other nation-states were to mirror this form – as the Estonian government predicts – there is no end to the number of e-residencies an individual could adopt.
This is the embodiment of citizenship commodified.
In our new land of Pantopia, nation states are entirely commodified – they are no more than brands which market themselves to individuals. They are merely state-led Netflix/ Uber style subscription based service providers. An individual’s passport becomes a collage of nations. These individuals relinquish nationality in pursuit of a liquified supra-terrestrial identity, to articulate global mobility and resist the reductive taxonomy of ethnic, national and cultural classification.
In an increasingly globalised and cosmopolitan world society we need a restructured, accessible and active form of identification – a form of liquid citizenship. A hacked, mutated and modular nationality that can shift and transform as quickly as the forces of digitised information and capital that act upon it.
If the traditional passport is an object that acts on the individual the liquid passport is an object that acts for the individual.
Thus, nations become service providers, borders become gates, and national territory becomes buildings. Nations become deterritorialized and exist in the same space, competing for customers.
This is the City of a Hundred Nations.
This is the story of Jamie, the daughter of a British father and French mother- the first child born into City of a Hundred Nations.
Educated in the city by Britain, by France, Sweden and Denmark, and a service user of Japan, China, Brazil and Hungary. A a citizen of everywhere but a local to nowhere, a citizen of global homogeneity, a nomad, a tourist. And on her 25th birthday Jamie pawns off her worldly possessions, but retains objects for which she has grown attached – that give her definition: a small teacup and a bottle of Chanel No.5.
And thus she embarks on a quest for coherence, citizenship and identity in a city that has none.
With excitement and resolute conviction she purchases a 9 month long subscription to France and Britain. Countries with their own infrastructural systems woven in, out and around the architecture of other nations – it is said that one could live an eternity within the hermetically sealed confines of one of these societies.
She scans her freshly minted passport and the thick cast iron gates to Britain and France squeal open, as if they haven’t been unlocked for decades – or as if they don’t want to be.
She quickly finds residence in each nation – floating between them and engratigating herself within alien, foreign but familiar values.
Sat in an elegant British style cafe, evoking the prestige of the once great empire.
She closes her eyes to take a sip her tea – filling her body with a warm unfamiliar feeling of nostalgia.
Comforted by this new feeling and emboldened by the experience, she taps out of Britain and skips over the border to France swiping into a traditional French park and shopping arcade – in search of a perfumery.
Bottle green light streams through antique glassware which lines the walls, the sweet sinuous aggregated notes of Yves Saint Laurent Opium, Coco mademoiselle and Chanel No.5 twist and fold together.
As if with mystic control, she is drawn to the bottle of Chanel No.5 which sits with dignified place on the shelf.
With pious devotion she gently grips the bottle, holding it to the light, scrutinising its rectilinear form and the thick fluid golden elixir within. A crisp articulation of modern production, of French high culture and of her own historical narrative.
The bottle is made by Verrias Brosse a manufacturer in what was known as France and the perfume inside is distilled from the flower of ylang ylang and cinnamon bark from the fields of the Comoros Islands and Sri Lanka, the seller tells her.
She places the bottle back on the shelf and leaves the shop.
Perturbed by this revelation, her mind races. But what are the national identities, the heritage of the objects that have come to have so much significance in defining her own? By attributing her identity to such products is she not attributing her identity to the nations from which they came, places from which they were produced?
Light falls and she lumbers back to her darkened British flat. Illuminated by the the light of her Apple branded laptop – designed in California it says – but made in China, Korea and Taiwan.
She pans between Compare the Market and her Subscription Manager apps looking for deals for citizenship and access to China – where her tea originated, to Portugal – the country that introduced cinnamon to the continent, to Sri Lanka the producer of cinnamon and to the Comoros Islands the producer and distiller of ylang ylang – the essence of Chanel No.5.
With trepidation she approaches the yet smaller gates of China, an ornate traditional structure with a short icon clad door, emblazoned with dragons heads. A tall glass and steel tower stand behind it – ‘The Bank of China’ it says plastered on a billboard above – the finance capital of the city of a hundred nations. Her hands shake as she swipes her crisp Chinese passport against the scanner.
She displays her passport to the receptionist and boards the lift to the 52nd floor – the tea room.
Murals line the walls illustrating British trade and the century of humiliation. Describing in threaded detail how Britain introduced opium to China in order to facilitate trade.
At the end of the wall in an crisp glass box sits an traditional ornate opium pipe. Does this object not have more significance in defining her heritage she thought – an item which came from British shores, which provided the lubricant to grease the gears of global trade. A history so ugly it was written out of the national narrative.
Next: She approaches the monumental timber gates of the Comoros Islands located in the heart of the city. Why has she not noticed this before, she thinks to herself. The doors are already ajar even before she can scan her passport. Reluctantly she prises them open and enters the elevator.
The elevator doors open high above the city to reveal huge industrial centers of manual labour promising 100% employment.
Agast, her eyes scan across rows and rows of ylang yang nurseries teaming with farmers harvesting the flowers and distilling the brew.
These industrial centers cast a shadow on the city below, but are unnoticed and invisible to the inhabitants. Core-nations get rich and fat off their exploits but their labour is unseen. Invisible labour which reinforces the identity of core-nations through products of national pride.
This willing myopia is a sanitization of identity – to cleanse the collective decaying and blackened national soul.
Is her history is not in the nations which appropriated products, material and capital for the own ends but in the world system which facilitated this global trade, blend, bastardisation, amalgamation and hybridisation of cultures? Does she not belong to the world? Each and every country? A citizen of the system – a citizen of everywhere and a citizen of nowhere.
In a frenzy she buys more passports accesses new doors and explores new cultures.
In this sleepless frantic haze she explore the city unlocking doors which she hasn’t noticed before, pathways, areas which were previously invisible.
Her head swells, her eyes blacken and her language becomes a garbled unintelligible jumble. With more and more intensity she consumes services and identities offered by nations – telling herself she will be the first citizen of everywhere.
She reaches the end – she’s broke with 60 passports, and no closer to coherence.
Destitute and penniless, with nothing to her name and her national subscriptions fast running out, she looks over the city counting down the seconds until access to Japan’s transport, to China’s financial centers, The Comoros industrial centers, Britain’s housing, France’s Parks, Scotland energy, Sweden’s education, The Cayman Islands banking, Canada’s legal services, Netflix’s Cinemas, Denmark’s Healthcare, Germany’s Libraries, Amazon Prime’s postal services and Hungary’s Museums end.
From her British apartment Jamie despondently gazes out of her window as the sun sets over the City of a Hundred nations.