Colonialism, Immigration and the Making of British citizenship

British Citizenship, Race, and Rights - Lecture 1

Lecturer: Dr James Hampshire, University of Sussex

Feb. 21, 2021

This session examines how Britain’s colonial and postcolonial history has shaped its understanding of citizenship. Citizenship can be understood as membership of a political community. As such, it cannot be separated from wider political projects of nation and empire. The session shows how colonial and postcolonial immigration shaped the development of what we now call British citizenship, and how national citizenship in Britain is inseparable from postcolonial conceptions of identity and belonging. The session explores how citizenship was introduced into UK law and traces its evolution in response to postcolonial immigration. It concludes with some reflections on contemporary legacies, including the Windrush Scandal.


  • Gentleman, Amelia. 2019. The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment. London: Guardian Faber Publishing.
  • Hampshire, James 2005. Citizenship and Belonging: Immigration and the Politics of Demographic Governance in Post-war Britain. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Hansen, Randall. 2000. Citizenship and Immigration in Post-war Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Paul, Kathleen. 1997. Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Post-war Era. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


Questions for discussion

  1. What does the development of citizenship tell us about the British state and its postcolonial identity?
  2. What role has racism played in shaping Britain’s citizenship and immigration regime?
  3. In what ways do the legacies of postcolonial citizenship affect the lives of ethnic minority Britons today?