Some dominant traditions in Refugee Studies have stressed the barrier which state citizenship presents to the displaced. Some have condemned citizenship altogether as a mechanism and ideology for excluding the weak (G. Agamben). Others have seen citizenship as an acute problem for displaced people in conditions, like those of the modern world, where the habitable world is comprehensively settled by states capable of defending their territory and organised in accordance with interstate norms, which leaves very limited space for the foundation of new communities with their own meaningful citizenship (H. Arendt). This paper engages with these prominent approaches, but also with more recent arguments that, when handled and adapted in the right way, the practices and ideology of citizenship also present opportunities for the displaced to form their own meaningful communities, exercise collective agency, and secure rights. It is argued that the evidence from ancient Greece shows that ancient Greek citizenship, an early forerunner of modern models of citizenship, could be imaginatively harnessed and adapted by displaced people and groups, in order to form effective and sometimes innovative political communities in exile, even after opportunities to found new city-states from scratch became quite rare (after c. 500 BC). Some relevant displaced groups experimented with more open and cosmopolitan styles of civic interaction and ideology in their improvised quasi-civic communities. The different kinds of ancient Greek informal ‘polis-in-exile’ can bring a new perspective on the wider debates and initiatives concerning refugee political agency and organisation in the ‘provocations’ in this special issue.
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