British Citizenship, Race, and Rights

Course lead: Amit Singh

Photograph of Anwar Ditta Defence Campaign demonstration, April 1980
Photograph of Anwar Ditta Defence Campaign demonstration, April 1980 (Courtesy of Anwar Ditta and

This module examines the ways in which notions of Britishness and citizenship have been historically constructed since 1948. In particular, it outlines how Britain’s colonial history frames contemporary debates around citizenship, rights and race. The module examines the ways in which migrant populations have been ‘managed’ within Britain and the ways in which these communities have resisted racism (both at a state and inter-personal level) and struggled for equality. The module will address the rise and fall of the multiculturalism project, reflecting on the tragedy of the Grenfell fire, the deportations of the “Windrush scandal”, and the attacks on multicultural education as represented by the Trojan Horse affair.


1. Colonialism, Immigration and the Making of British citizenship

Dr James Hampshire, University of Sussex

This session examines how Britain’s colonial and postcolonial history has shaped its understanding of citizenship. Citizenship can be understood as membership of a political community. As such, it cannot be separated from wider political projects of nation and empire.

The session shows how colonial and postcolonial immigration shaped the development of what we now call British citizenship, and how national citizenship in Britain is inseparable from postcolonial conceptions of identity and belonging.

The session explores how citizenship was introduced into UK law and traces its evolution in response to postcolonial immigration. It concludes with some reflections on contemporary legacies, including the Windrush Scandal.

2. British Black Power

Dr John Narayan, Kings College London

This session examines how Britain possessed its own distinctive form of Black Power movement, which, whilst inspired and informed by its US counterpart, was rooted in anti-colonial politics, New Commonwealth immigration, and the onset of decolonisation.

The session also explores how British Black Power offers valuable lessons about how the politics of anti-racism and anti-imperialism should be united in the 21st century.

3. (Un)archiving Black British Feminisms

Alexandra Wanjiku Kelbert, University of Warwick

Black Feminism draws attention to the ways in which racialised, gendered and classed structures and discourses interact to position women differently in relation to white supremacist and patriarchal systems of oppression.

In Britain, Black British Feminism offered not just a challenge to the white feminist theoretical claim to universal womanhood but offered a political space through which racialized women were able to develop their own political frames and build their own campaigns and struggles.

In this session we consider the lessons that can be learnt from Black British Feminist theories and struggles. The session also raises some epistemological questions about what histories we have access to or not, the gap between the ‘facts of what happened’ and ‘that which is said to have happened’ (Trouillot 1995) and ways to remedy some of these gaps, by drawing on insights from a project funded by the Feminist Review Trust.

While the session does not provide a detailed account of Black British Feminist thought and action, the resources listed below offer fascinating insights for Black Feminist enthusiasts.

4. Modes of Integration, Multiculturalism and National Identities

Prof Tariq Modood, University of Bristol

Full integration requires some degree of subjective identification with the society or country as a whole. How to integrate difference so that difference ceases to be problematic? Four modes of integration are discussed in order to bring out the character of multiculturalism and its relation to liberty, equality and solidarity – the core components of national citizenship.

The key difference between multiculturalism and other modes of integration is the normative significance it gives to minority racial, ethnic and religious groups, not just individuals and organisations, within national citizenship.

The recent emphasis on cohesion and citizenship is a rebalancing of the political multiculturalism of the 1990s, which largely took the form of accommodation of groups while being ambivalent about national identity and taking cohesion at a local level for granted.

Dialogical remaking of the national identity from the bottom up as well as by the state has been taking place but is also being resisted by those who cluster around mono-nationalism and anti-national cosmopolitanism.

5. The Grunwick strike

Prof Sundari Anitha, University of Lincoln

Dominant representations of South Asian women in Britain locate them within their family and community lives; the women themselves are constructed as passive, confined to the domestic sphere and lacking agency.

Their roles as citizens, as workers and as active members of trade unions who have contributed to the struggles for workers’ rights in the UK is elided in historical accounts and contemporary popular discourses.

The Grunwick strike that took place in the late 1970s was one of the many occasions when South Asian women fought for their rights as workers. The focus of this session the Grunwick strike and its legacy for the broader struggles against racism and exploitation at work.

6. From Windrush to Grenfell

Dr Luke de Noronha, University of Manchester

Both the Windrush scandal and the Grenfell fire raise urgent questions for sociologists, and for people concerned about tackling racism more broadly. Both remind us that racism is not just about individuals being intolerant, prejudiced, or bigoted, but about the social and institutional structures that organise who is entitled to what.

In this lecture, I invite us to ask some questions about racism, rights and exclusion – particularly in relation to the history and contemporary dynamics of immigration control. It is by asking who is a member of the nation, who is excluded, how this changes over time, and what can be done to those denied membership, that we can develop critical methodologies for studying racism in anti-immigrant times.

7. The Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair

Prof John Holmwood, University of Nottingham

In early 2014, the media was full of stories of a ‘plot to Islamicise schools’ in Birmingham, Bradford and Oldham. Various official investigations claimed to find evidence of extremism, but when misconduct cases were brought against teachers in September 2015, the only charges were ‘undue religious influence’.

The cases collapsed in May 2017 because of ‘impropriety’ on the part of lawyers acting for the government. Nonetheless, the affair led to important changes in policy – a new emphasis within Prevent on safeguarding children from non-violent extremism, and a requirement on schools to teach ‘fundamental British values’. Most recently, the latter has spilled over into arguments that ‘British values’ be taught using the Equality Act 2010 and its protected characteristics.

This session will address the background to the affair in Government attacks on multiculturalism, the ‘authoritarian’ governance of schools under the academies programme, as well as secular liberal criticisms of the role of religion in schools.