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Many scholars have treated nationality as a creature of the state, imposed more or less legitimately or "successfully" from the top down, (2) while others have stressed how individuals and groups have contested and helped define national identities through cultural processes which might coincide with, shape, or undermine state-imposed definitions. (3) Abundant scholarship documents elite and state efforts to construct and impose hegemonic definitions of national identity, including nationality itself, but we lack effective measures of their success in enlisting ordinary people into these nationbuilding projects. (4) We know little about how and whether such people experienced, participated in or identified with national identities as elites envisioned them. Some scholars see nationalism presupposing "unity" between "culture" and "customary practices;" others argue ordinary people had no stake in nationalism, and that "becoming national" demanded "delocalization of feelings of belonging." (5) Applications for naturalization in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain afford a not unmediated glimpse into the ways migrants and natives defined and articulated British nationality. Between 1879 and 1947, nearly eight hundred migrants to South Shields, a British port at the mouth of the river Tyne, applied for and received naturalization as British subjects. Systematic analysis of the record they left can illuminate how and why individuals navigated their way from outsider to insider, reconciling transnational mobility with local relationships and national allegiances. This evidence sheds light not only on these hundreds of migrants, but their social networks: neighbors, friends, spouses, employers, business and religious contacts, landlords, and the "customary practices" through which outsiders became British. These stories show that naturalization was not simply an objective, legal, and secular contract between an individual and the state, but also a personal, subjective, and collective process in which native Britons as well as migrants from after played decisive roles. For the people of South Shields, British nationality formed in dialogue between the locality and the state, a dialectic containing significant discrepancies between local and national definitions of belonging.

22 décembre
Journal of Social History

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