Contested Citizenship

Contested Citizenship Conference

University of Connecticut

Alumni House

Registration Form

Conference Overview

 For scholars in ethnic studies, gender and sexuality studies, and American studies, “citizenship” is far from a neutral signifier: it marks a deeply vexed and historically contingent site of struggle.  Despite the rise of human rights in the postwar period, citizenship within a nation state is still the de facto basis of legal personhood in the contemporary world system: all too often, legal citizenship marks a boundary between the subject of rights and the object of state violence.  At the same time, citizenship is more than a legal category.  As Lauren Berlant has written, it is also felt as an intimate relationship among strangers, a common identity rooted in a geopolitical space.  As such, it is an institutionally constructed promise of security and “the good life,” one which is unevenly delivered due to the social hierarchies on which the nation state depends.

 This conference brings together scholars from a variety of fields to address the ways in which citizenship operates as a terrain of struggle.  What does the history of state violence and mass incarceration tell us about the racialized nature of citizenship in the United States, and the ultimate revocability of legal personhood?  How has the gap between lived experience and the promises of citizenship generated new democratic struggles?  When has this gap generated a fierce and exclusionary over-identification with citizenship, constitutive of political reaction?  How have people organized collectively in ways that push against citizenship as the ultimate rubric of political subjectivity?  And how is the citizen/non-citizen dyad crucial to the accumulation of capital and the maintenance of empire?  Panelists from the University of Connecticut and across the country will discuss the ways in which their work intersects with such questions, and we hope to bring together their insights in an edited volume on the theme of contested citizenship.

Thursday, March 30

5:00 pm                     Reception

5:30pm                        Keynote:  Vijay Prashad (Trinity College)

Introduction by Cathy Schlund-Vials (UConn)                      

Friday, March 31

9:00-9:30am                Welcome:  Shirley Roe (UConn, Associate Dean, CLAS)

Chris Vials (UConn)

9:30-11:00am              Panel 1: State Violence and Incarceration

–Robert Chase (SUNY-Stonybrook)

–Cindy Wu (SUNY-Buffalo)

–Melanie Newport (UConn)

Moderator: Noel Cazenave (UConn)

11:00-11:15                 Coffee Break

11:15-12:45pm                        Panel 2: Undocumented Workers and Students

–Mark Overmyer-Velázquez (UConn, History/El Instituto)

–Alicia Schmidt Camacho (Yale, Ethnicity, Race, and Migration)

–Aviva Chomsky (Salem State, History)

Moderator:  Yael Schacher (UConn)

12:45-1:45pm              Lunch


1:45-3:15pm                Panel 3:  Empire, Labor, and Capital

–Christina Heatherton (Trinity University)

–Cesar Abadia (UConn)

–Iyko Day (Mt. Holyoke College)        

Moderator: Chris Vials (UConn)       

3:30-4:30pm                Closing Remarks

Mark Overmyer-Velázquez

Faculty Biographies


abadiaCésar E. Abadía-Barrero is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Human Rights at the University of Connecticut. His work integrates critical perspectives in the study and transformation of health inequalities. He has studied the judicialization of health care, social mobilization for the right to health, insurance/administrative barriers to access health services, and the transformation of medical practice and medical education within the context of the neoliberal health care reform in Colombia. His current book project examines the defunding, closure and privatization of Colombia’s most legendary child and maternity university hospital. He is also the author of Children Subjectivities, AIDS and Social Responses in Brazil.




noelcazenaveNoel A. Cazenave is Professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. He is also on the faculty of the Urban and Community Studies program of UConn’s Greater Hartford Campus and is a faculty affiliate with its Africana Studies Institute and its American Studies Program. His recent and current work is in the areas of: racism theory, U.S. poverty policy, political sociology, urban sociology, and criminal justice. In addition to numerous journal articles, book chapters, and other publications, Professor Cazenave coauthored Welfare Racism: Playing the Race Card against America’s Poor, which won five book awards, and has since then published Impossible Democracy: The Unlikely Success of the War on Poverty Community Action Programs and The Urban Racial State: Managing Race Relations in American Cities. Professor Cazenave’s most recently published book is Conceptualizing Racism: Breaking the Chains of Racially Accommodative Language. His current book project is tentatively entitled Killing African Americans: Police and Vigilante Violence as a Racial Control Mechanism.



iyko-day_photoRobert T. Chase is an Assistant Professor of history at Stony Brook University, State University of New York (SUNY). This academic year he is also a fellow at the Humanities Institute at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of the forthcoming book Civil Rights on the Cell Block: Prisoners’ Rights Movements and Carceral States (UNC Press). He is also the co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Sunbelt Prisons and Carceral States: New Histories of Incarceration, Immigration Detention/Deportation, and Resistance (UNC Press). His work has been published in the Journal of Urban History, the Journal of American History, and a chapter in the anthology The New, New South (University Press of Florida, 2012). He is the recipient of the E.B. and Jean Smith prize for best dissertation in political history and his research has been funded through postdoctoral fellowships with Southern Methodist University, Case Western Reserve University, and Rutgers University. As a public intellectual, his work on the history of prison and policing reform and state violence has been featured on national media programs through radio, newspapers, and television (MSNBC, CNN, and NPR, Newsweek, Washington Post).



headshot second smAviva Chomsky is Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts. Her books include Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal (Beacon Press, 2014; Mexican edition, 2014), A History of the Cuban Revolution (2011, 2nd ed. 2015), Linked Labor Histories: New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class (2008), They Take Our Jobs! And Twenty Other Myths about Immigration (2007; U.S. Spanish edition 2011, Cuban edition 2013), and West Indian Workers and the United Fruit Company in Costa Rica, 1870-1940 (1996). She has also co-edited several anthologies including The People behind Colombian Coal: Mining, Multinationals and Human Rights/Bajo el manto del carbón: Pueblos y multinacionales en las minas del Cerrejón, Colombia (2007), The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics (2003) and Identity and Struggle at the Margins of the Nation-State: The Laboring Peoples of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean (1998). She has been active in Latin America solidarity and immigrants’ rights movements for several decades.




c_heatherton profile picChristina Heatherton is an American Studies scholar and historian of anti-racist social movements. She is completing her first book, The Color Line and the Class Struggle: The Mexican Revolution, Internationalism, and the American Century (University of California Press, forthcoming). With Jordan T. Camp she recently edited Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter (Verso Books, 2016). Her research interests include transnational social movements; neoliberalism and urban insecurity; race, culture, and imperialism; and history of capitalism. She is currently an Assistant Professor of American Studies at Trinity College specializing in topics related to “US in the World.”



iyko-day_photoIyko Day is Associate Professor of English and Chair of Critical Social Thought at Mount Holyoke College. She is also Co-Chair of the Five College Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program. Her research and teaching are situated at the intersection of Asian American literature and visual culture, race and settler colonialism, and Marxian political economy. Her book, Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism (Duke, 2016) retheorizes the history and logic of settler colonialism by examining its intersection with capitalism and the racialization of Asian immigrants in Canada and the United States.



Newport_photoMelanie Newport is an Assistant Professor of US history at the University of Connecticut’s Hartford campus and a faculty affiliate in American Studies. As a 20th century US policy historian, her research and teaching interests include crime and incarceration, urban history, social movements, and legal history. Her current research projects explore how criminal justice institutions and polices shape the lived experiences of people accused of crimes. Her current book project, Community of the Condemned: Constructing Marginalization at Cook County Jail, analyzes the evolving social impact of American jail expansion during the postwar era. She is also researching the history of money bail and bail bondsmen.



mov conf photoMark Overmyer-Velázquez is the founding Director of El Instituto: Institute of Latina/o, Caribbean & Latin American Studies and Associate Professor of History at the University of Connecticut. His books include, Beyond la Frontera: The History of Mexico-U.S. Migration (Oxford, 2011), Global Latin(o) Americanos: Transoceanic Diasporas and Regional Migrations (Oxford, 2017) and the two volume, Latino America: State by State (Greenwood, 2008). He serves as Vice Chairperson of Connecticut Students for a Dream (, a state-wide organization that advocates and provides assistance for undocumented students and their families.



vijayprashadVijay Prashad is Professor of International Studies and the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History. He is the author of over twenty books, most recently The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (California, 2016) and the edited volume Will the Flower Slip Through the Asphalt: Writers Respond to Capitalist Climate Change, which has essays by Naomi Klein, Amitav Ghosh, Rafia Zakaria, Susan Abulhawa and Masturah Alatas among others (LeftWord, 2017). He reports regularly for Frontline and The Hindu (India),BirGün (Turkey) and Alternet (United States). He is the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books (New Delhi).



yaelschacherYael Schacher teaches American Studies courses at UConn’s Hartford campus. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Harvard last year. She recently received a Cromwell Fellowship from the American Society for Legal History to revise her dissertation, “Exceptions to Exclusion: A Prehistory of Asylum in the United States, 1880-1980,” for publication. The dissertation traced the relationship of immigration to refugee policy over the course of the twentieth century, examining claims for refuge by political exiles, war widows and orphans, deserting seamen, and stranded students, among others. She is currently working on a history of the Board of Immigration Appeals (and its relationship to the immigration bureaucracy) and a new project on local and campus “sanctuary” policies and immigration federalism more generally. For the past year she has been working with clients, mostly from Central and South America, seeking various forms of relief at the International Institute of Connecticut Hartford’s legal services office.



alicia-schmidt-camacho1Alicia Schmidt Camacho is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration, and the Associate Master for Ezra Stiles College at Yale University. Her scholarship concerns the femicide in Ciudad Juárez, transnational migration, border governance, and social movements in the Americas. She is the author of Migrant Imaginaries: Latino Cultural Politics in the Mexico–U.S. Borderlands (NYU Press, 2008), and is currently at work on a second book project entitled, The Carceral Border: Social Violence and Governmentality on the Frontiers of Our America. She chairs the board of Junta for Progressive Action, a community agency serving the Latina/o community of Fair Haven, and is a contributor to local and transnational projects for immigrant and human rights.



vialsChris Vials is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut-Storrs, where he also serves as Director of American Studies. He is the author of Haunted by Hitler: Liberals, the Left, and the Fight against Fascism in the United States (University of Massachusetts Press, 2015) and Realism for the Masses: Aesthetics, Popular Front Pluralism, and U.S. Culture, 1935-1947 (University Press of Mississippi, 2009). He is the sole editor of American Literature in Transition: 1940-1950 (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press). His is now at work on a third project on the fraying appeal of neoliberal temporality in U.S. culture, and what this bodes for the country’s class composition, racial formation, and projects of empire abroad. He is also co-editing the U.S. Antifascism Reader with Bill Mullen.



Portrait of Cynthia Wu Assistant Professor of American StudiesCynthia Wu is an Associate Professor of American studies in the Department of Transnational Studies at the University at Buffalo (SUNY).  She teaches courses on Asian American and critical ethnic studies, disability studies, and gender and sexuality studies.  She is the author of Chang and Eng Reconnected: The Original Siamese Twins in American Culture (Temple, 2012).  Her new research, from which her presentation is culled, is on the U.S. military in the Asian American imagination.  She has published portions of it in Amerasia Journal and Signs.