Colonial Genealogies of Immigration Controls, Self-Determination, and the Nation-State

Torsten Menge*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Political philosophy has long treated the nation-state as the starting point for normative inquiry, while paying little attention to the ongoing legacies of colonialism and imperialism. But given how most modern states emerged, normative discussions about migration, for example, need to engage with the colonial and imperial history of state immigration controls, citizenship practices, and the nation-state more generally. This article critically reviews three historical studies by Adom Getachew, Radhika Mongia, and Nandita Sharma that engage in depth with this history. The studies historicize concepts that are central to discussions in political philosophy: the categories of citizen and migrant, the concept of ‘nationality,’ and the principle of self-determination. I argue that this historicized form of conceptual analysis helps us challenge the default authority of concepts that are deeply embedded in the political structures that we inhabit.


  • Colonialism
  • genealogy
  • immigration
  • nation-state
  • self-determination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science


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