Ingenious Citizenship

Recrafting Democracy for Social Change

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: Published: February 2016

Author: Charles T. Lee

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Politics > Political Theory

In Ingenious Citizenship Charles T. Lee centers the daily experiences and actions of migrant domestic workers, sex workers, transgender people, and suicide bombers in his rethinking of mainstream models of social change. Bridging cultural and political theory with analyses of film, literature, and ethnographic sources, Lee shows how these abject populations find ingenious and improvisational ways to disrupt and appropriate practices of liberal citizenship. When voting and other forms of civic engagement are unavailable or ineffective, the subversive acts of a domestic worker breaking a dish or a prostitute using the strategies and language of an entrepreneur challenge the accepted norms of political action. Taken to the extreme, a young Palestinian woman blowing herself up in a Jerusalem supermarket questions two of liberal citizenship's most cherished values: life and liberty. Using these examples to critically reinterpret political agency, citizenship practices, and social transformation, Lee reveals the limits of organizing change around a human rights discourse. Moreover, his subjects offer crucial lessons in how to turn even the worst conditions and the most unstable positions in society into footholds for transformative and democratic agency.


"[Lee] recrafts not only democratic notions of agency, but also what we mean when we say 'political theory' and think about its relationship to how we act in the world." — Bogdan Popa, Contemporary Political Theory

"A useful work on ingenious citizenship that captures the efforts of the abjected to gain relevance in a neoliberal society." — Samuel Adu-Gyamfi, Atlantis

"Lee draws one into the text through his provocative, outside the box exploration of social change. All in all, Lee has laid the groundwork for a new theory of everyday resistance as a potential force of radical social change. . . . ." — Michael T. Rogers, New Political Science

"Illuminating social change emanating from the most compromised, powerless, and abject members of liberal capitalist societies, Charles T. Lee discovers enactments of ingenious citizenship even in a suicide bomber's violence. Lee's readers will find themselves surprised by the degree to which democratic and social theory underestimates the promise of change issuing from actions that appear to be undertaken in complicity with liberal capitalism. Contaminated and compromised as we all are in systems of abjection, Lee offers hope for ingenious citizens everywhere."   — Barbara Cruikshank, author of The Will to Empower: Democratic Citizens and Other Subjects

"A refreshing take on forms of liberal complicity. With clarity, Charles T. Lee outlines productive encounters with liberal scripts, ones that ultimately we cannot escape and thus must transform. Of particular import is the recomposition of rights platforms as intrinsic to any politics that seeks to go beyond them. Timely and smart. A convincing account."  — Jasbir K. Puar, author of Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Charles T. Lee is Assistant Professor of Justice and Social Inquiry in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction. Ingenious Agency: Democratic Agency and Its Disavowel  1

Part I. Beginning

1. Improvising Citizenship: Appropriating the Liberal Citizenship Script  37

Part II. Episodes

2. Migrant Domestic Workers, Hidden Tactics, and Appropriating Political Citizenship  61

3. Global Sex Workers, Calculated Abjection, and Appropriating Economic Citizenship  101

4. Trans People, Morphing Technologies, and Appropriating Gendered Citizenship  149

5. Suicide Bombers, Sacrificial Violence, and Appropriating Life Itself  191

Part III. (Un)Ending

Conclusion. Politics without Politics: Democracy as Meant for Ingenious Appropriation  247

Notes  257

Works Cited  269

Index  287
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2017 Transdisciplinary Humanities Book Award, Institute for Humanities Research

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6037-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6021-6