Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Immigrant naturalization and nation-building in North America
by Aptekar, Sofya, Ph.D., Princeton University, 2010, 275; 3435972
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is concerned with how citizenship and its acquisition matter and what they mean for immigrants themselves and for their new nations. The proportion of immigrants who have citizenship status in the United States is low and has been declining. I seek to bring perspective on this low citizenship uptake by comparing the United States to Canada, which is similar in many ways but with citizenship rates that are twice as high and growing.

I start by considering the way citizenship status among immigrants intersects with other dimensions of inequality. My analysis of census data reveals that unequal distribution of citizenship exacerbates existing socioeconomic inequalities, particularly in the United States. These patterns of inequality are worrisome because naturalization is a route to full political membership and representation, as well as jobs, security from deportation, and social benefits.

But what does citizenship mean to immigrants themselves? To address this understudied question, I draw on interviews with naturalizing immigrants. I find little support for the oft-voiced worry that immigrants are naturalizing for the ‘wrong reasons’. Naturalizing immigrants tend to associate citizenship with membership and to be interested in voting – even if many already feel part of their countries prior to this formal step. But immigrants in the United States naturalize defensively more often than immigrants in Canada, while in Canada, immigrants are far more likely to connect naturalization to good qualities of the country. I discuss these differences in light of the institutional environment in each country and consider their implications for patterns of inequality and the legitimacy of the nation.

Finally, I turn to the meaning of naturalization for the nation, and the larger question of how immigrants fit into national identity. My analysis of remarks made at citizenship ceremonies in mid 20th century and contemporary United States reveals a shift in the role of immigrants from potential liabilities and weak links to morally superior beings. In Canada, too, immigrants are constructed as ‘supercitizens’. Citizenship ceremonies also afford an intimate look at the content of national identity, and I trace changes and differences overtime and between countries.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wuthnow, Robert, Massey, Douglas
School: Princeton University
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 72/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, Canadian studies, Ethnic studies
Keywords: Canada, Citizenship, Immigration, Nationalism, Naturalization, United States
Publication Number: 3435972
ISBN: 9781124351025