Performative Citizenship

Kathryn Abrams, 2016-2017 LAPA Fellow; UC Berkeley School of Law

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 12:00pm
Event Category: 
By Invitation Only

This is a series of informal workshop sessions for papers in progress. Each is by invitation only and is an RSVP event.

To receive an invitation, please email LAPA Associate Director Leslie Gerwin at

Abstract:  "In this session, I will be discussing my chapter on “performative citizenship,” one of several instrumentalities through which undocumented activists develop the sense of political authorization necessary to engage state actors, notwithstanding their lack of legal status. Performative citizenship describes a set of tactics through which undocumented immigrants, in the course of movement actions or campaigns, take on participatory roles traditionally associated with citizens. These tactics are performative in claiming a “space of citizenship” that undocumented activists do not formally possess, and in moving undocumented immigrants toward formal membership by shaping perceptions of undocumented belonging, among movement actors, state actors, and members of the public. I develop this argument through the examination of a civic engagement campaign in which undocumented activists registered close to 50,000 new Latino voters. And I ask how these performative effects may be disrupted by the advent of an administration that does not credit undocumented immigrants as political participants."

Abrams photo
Kathryn Abrams
2016-2017 LAPA Fellow
UC Berkeley School of Law

Kathryn Abrams is Herma Hill Kay Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law, where she teaches in the areas of feminist legal theory, constitutional law, law and social movements, and law and the emotions. Her work has appeared in Yale Law Journal,Columbia Law ReviewCalifornia Law ReviewLaw and PhilosophyLaw and Social Inquiry, and Nomos, among others. She is the editor of two special issues:  “Witness” forWomen’s Studies Quarterly (co-edited with Irene Kacandes, 2008), and “Legal Feminism Now,” for Issues in Legal Scholarship (2011). Her work on feminist theory and activism explores the use of experiential narrative as a form of political and theoretical argumentation, and analyzed expressions of women’s partial agency under circumstances of constraint. These early interests fueled a more recent focus on the role of emotion in legal claims-making and social movement mobilization. Abrams received her undergraduate degree from Harvard and her law degree from Yale. Her current, empirically-based project examines the mobilization of undocumented immigrants in the anti-immigrant state of Arizona. At LAPA she will work on a book analyzing the ways that storytelling, tactics of ‘performative citizenship,’ and strategies of emotion management have enabled participants without formal legal status to emerge as confident, effective legal claims-makers under highly adverse political circumstances.