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Citizenships. The Struggle for Political Belonging in Germany, France and Poland since the 19th century (Working Title)

Do you belong here? Or don’t you? This question triggers strong, even conflicting feelings. Many of these feelings are bound together by the idea of citizenship: a legal status that brings some people together while separating others. Citizenship fosters a sense of national and political community, but it also denotes a set of differences and gives priority over those outside the community. Being closely linked with the modern nation state, citizenship became the object of struggles for political participation and cultural belonging. It determined who got to enjoy the protection of the welfare state, who had a say in politics, and, during the time of national service and the draft, who had to risk their life for the state. Citizenship thus helped forge identity constructs at the national, collective level and was pivotal in ensuring a person’s life prospects and chances of survival in the European states of the 19th and 20th century.

In a broad sweep from the ‘long’ 19th century to the present day, the exhibition shows the changing face of both the meaning of citizenship and its power to galvanize. It quickly rose to become the dominant form of political belonging in the age of the nation state, was used by dictatorships as an instrument of ethnic and political selection, and is currently experiencing a sea change in the face of citizenship of the supranational European Union. This is shown in the exhibition based on three European countries – Germany, France, and Poland – which as neighbouring states were existentially entangled by sharp conflicts and close political cooperation.

The exhibition is curated by Prof. Dieter Gosewinkel.