How does May Joseph define nomadic citizenship?

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In modern society, various aspects such as technology and international trade have resulted in globalization. People are moving from one location to another within a few hours. There is the exchange of goods and services through online money transfer. This development in the society has resulted in the evolution of rootlessness. For instance, through developed infrastructure, people can move from one country to another in search of employment, education, food, and tourism, among others. The shift of people from one location to another causes economic, social, and political instability (Joseph, 1999). For instance, the migration of individuals from their homeland to another location or country results in the gradual change in the traditions. This paper explores the thought of May Joseph to define nomadic citizenship and attempts to analyze how Joseph’s framework can be used to evaluate Mississippi Masala.

Definition of Nomadic Citizenship

In the social domain, various factors can cause the population to move from their motherland to another location or country. For instance, political instability and civil war in Syria, Libya, Israel-Palestine has resulted in the massive shift of people from one region to another. Moreover, opportunities can lead to movement of people from their country to another for better living standards (Joseph, 1999). For example, the case of immigrants from Africa to Spain and Italy through the Mediterranean Sea. This shift of population disrupts their traditions and culture, which may lead to cultural pluralism in the country they settle. May Joseph looks at the entire transition of the population leaving their ‘ancestral homeland’ and residing in another place. The concept of original homeland and the meaning of citizenship triggers an essential quest for Joseph to define nomadic citizenship.

Critical issues of migration and displacement of people in modern society are explored in Joseph’s book, The Performance of Citizenship. According to Joseph (1999), individuals in the modern society have to be proactive and participative in the affairs of the society to acquire citizenship of a particular place. Joseph argues that citizenship is not natural or automatic, but rather a concept that needs to be earned. However, Joseph posits that nomadic citizenship entails individuals that shift from one location or state to another in search of economic, cultural, political, and legal opportunity. These people, referred to as nomadic citizens, continuously renew or assimilate to a new culture of a particular region to fit in the society. However, Joseph asserts that the migration of these people can be forced or voluntary. Therefore, nomadic citizenship entails the continuous renewal and adoption of a new culture to fit in the society in a particular region or place.

Nomadic citizens migrate to a new society to improve their living standards, while others shift to save their lives from political turmoil (Joseph, 1999). For example, in the United States, U.S., illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America fit in the context of nomadic citizenship. Migrants from Mexico move to America with the perception of ‘green pasture’ for economic growth and progress. They are forced to subscribe and adhere to the laws of the Americans by following the right procedure. However, cases of illegal immigrants have resulted in the deportation of people. In this case, Joseph questions the aspect of citizenship because these people are taken back to their ‘home,’ which is defined by administrative boundaries.

In regards to citizenship, Joseph purports that nomad citizens have been forced to assimilate to new cultural practices. Nomad citizens lack the identity of their motherland because they are forced to perform citizenship across the national boundaries (Joseph, 1999). Nomadic citizenship is characterized by loss of authentic cultural beliefs and customs, to fit in a new environment. Joseph argues that nomad citizens detach themselves from their country and go with their citizenship to other locations. For example, the case of Asians in East Africa supports the notion that these Asians departed from their country and settled in Africa, but they refer to themselves as Asians by citizenship they have with their motherland. Moreover, Joseph emphasizes on nomadic citizenship as individuals that have their cultural sense with their country.

The evolution of nomadic citizenship is linked to the postcolonial societies, especially in the African continent and Asian region.  Joseph (1999) affirms that colonization in Africa by Europeans resulted in the emergence of nomad citizens. For instance, during post-colonization, some communities were displaced from one area to another because of ‘class,’ while other communities shifted to other locations because of escalated political tension and civil conflicts (Mamdani, 2011). He attempts to analyze the identity of postcolonial societies. In regards to Joseph’s school of thought, the present societies are characterized by nomadic citizenship because the colonial power aimed to disenfranchise the local communities.

In regards to the movie, Mississippi Masala, Joseph’s nomadic citizenship framework on identity and cross-national boundary become apparent. Mississippi Masala film contains a different character with a remarkable place in their personality. The movie revolves around the concept of cultural pluralism and inter-racial marriage. In the Mississippi Masala film, Joseph’s concept of the migration of people from one region to another because of political instability is apparent. Mina’s family, Asian background, were banished from Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin. The actions of Idi Amin to expel Asian citizens provides a close relationship to Joseph’s argument that people are identified by their original place of birth and culture, rather than their current state. On the other hand, Jay in Mississippi Masala argues that his homeland was Uganda (LugaFlix, n.d.). Demetrius and Mina, on the other hand, find it difficult to express their love because of cultural and racial differences. Despite the two being in a new location, they still identify themselves based on their motherland. It is difficult for an Asian woman to date a black American person.

Nomadic citizenship is a concept that involves individuals interacting and getting used to a new way of life in a given region. Joseph’s book, The Performance of Citizenship, describes the difficulties of people to adapt to a new cultural practice. For instance, in the film, Mississippi Masala, after the eviction of Asians in Uganda, Mina’s father is confused and stressed. He is used to Uganda, which he refers to as home, when he asks Okelo, his friend, where he can go.  According to LugaFlix (n.d.), he replied and assured Mina’s father that Africa belongs to black Africans and not Asians. The concept of cultural pluralism is not accepted at this scene of the movie. Nomad citizens face racial discrimination because the local community regards themselves as the rightful owners and occupancies of the region (Mamdani, 2011). For instance, Mamdani discusses a similar ordeal that Asians faced during the reign of Idi Amin in Uganda. The Uganda Asian portray a clean picture of nomadic citizenship because their homeland was initially in Asia, but they want to fit in a new African society in Uganda and feel accepted.

Nomad citizenship is a critical concept that Joseph (1999) evaluates in her book to indicate the negative implications of racial difference. According to Joseph, nomad citizens go through a psychological breakdown in a multicultural society. Nomad citizens are not used to the change in cultural practice they have been accustomed to. For example, in Mississippi Masala film, Dr. Verghese acquires the history of his patients by listening to their background information and ordeals personally.  Luga Flix (n.d.) postulates that Dr. Verghese has lost the sense of belonging to a particular community, which he is supposed to be part of. His primary goal as a medical practitioner was to save humanity by looking past the aspect of racial differences. Therefore, it is significant to understand that nomadic citizenship helps individuals to focus beyond cultural practice.


Nomadic citizenship entails a broad dimension in the economic, social, and political domains. Joseph’s book, The Performance of Citizenship, explores and defines nomadic citizenship as a concept beyond the administrative boundary. Nomad citizens are sometimes forced to give up their homeland identity and acquire a new citizenship by adhering to laws of another place. Mississippi Masala film uses the framework in Joseph’s book to support her claims that nomadic citizens go through psychological issues to feel accepted and acquire a sense of belonging to a particular country. In other words, if the society around the world embraces multiculturalism, nomadic citizens would not be subjected to racial discrimination. Racism is a major issue in ancient and modern society that is still persistent and continues to affect the freedom to interact across different races.

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  1. Joseph, M. (1999). Nomadic identities: The performance of citizenship (Vol. 5). U of Minnesota Press.
  2. Luga Flix. (n.d.). Mississippi Masala. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  3. Mamdani, M. (2011). From citizen to refugee: Uganda Asians come to Britain. Fahamu/Pambazuka.
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