SJ Quinney College of Law, University of Utah


The concept of citizenship poses an interesting asymmetry: though all citizens receive the same rights and obligations on equal terms, citizenship is not distributed to individuals on equal terms. In the United States, some are citizens by virtue of birth within the national territory or birth to citizen parents. Others must undergo the process of naturalization. Different citizenship rules appear to solve for different variables, and it is not clear whether and how those variables relate to one another. This Article begins unraveling the paradox. It argues that the apparent paradox results from a failure to understand the relationship between citizenship’s formal and substantive dimensions. The Article reconceptualizescitizenship by decoupling substantive and formal citizenship. Formal citizenship is not a static condition that is or even ought to be synonymous with more abstract notions of membership and belonging. Rather, formal citizenship is a path that leads toward substantive citizenship, and formal citizenship rules serve as entrances to that path. Mapping and understanding the way that formal citizenship can relate to substantive citizenship can inform contemporary debates about citizenship, immigration, and membership.