Entrepreneurial Citizenship

Pilot Project B:

Entrepreneurial Citizenship:

New Economies and the Respatialisation of Citizenship in China, India, and Europe


Funding period: 2014-2016

Principal Investigators:

Prof. Dr. Sabine Hess (Institute for Cultural Anthropology/ European Ethnology, University of Göttingen).
Prof. Dr. Srirupa Roy (Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen).
Prof. Dr. Peter van der Veer (Max Planck Institute for Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen).

Project Summary

Two key themes of "the new economy” and "the new citizen,” have anchored the idea of newness and shaped the "politics of the new” in different historical periods. This project will investigate discourses and practices of a new (neoliberal) economy, particularly those of enterprise / entrepreneurship, are reshaping structures, ideals and spaces of citizenship across the globe in the contemporary historical conjuncture. The specific focus is on how the growing symbolic and material prominence of the "entrepreneurial citizen” has respatialised relations of power and sovereignty in three different regional configurations of new economic order: the "emerging markets” of India and China and the "restructuring economies" of Europe.

In the wake of recent transformations in global capitalism and geopolitical order, the ideal of the national citizen-worker that shaped nationalist ideologies and guided the formation of social policy in these three regions since at least the middle of the twentieth century has been replaced by a new model of entrepreneurial citizenship. To what end? What are the political and social consequences, costs and opportunities of the entrepreneurial citizenship model? What are the political technologies and rationalities that it draws upon and realizes, ranging from policy interventions to cultural-ideological formations? What are the spatial politics and spatial implications of entrepreneurial citizenship: how does it reconfigure relations between state, territory and citizen; how does it rework national and regional expressions of state sovereignty? These are the research questions that inform our collaborative project.

Departing from existing scholarship on the individualizing effects and intentions of entrepreneurial ideologies and projects—the widely held view that enterprise capitalism promotes "possessive individualism"—we examine instead how contemporary entrepreneurial projects in India, China, and Europe constitute a "New Social” in which relations between states and citizens and among citizens, and the spaces of state sovereignty and citizenship, are restructured in novel and often unexpected ways.

Our preliminary research leads us to speculate that entrepreneurial citizenship is enabling the emergence and consolidation of a distinctive phenomenon of "market statism” across diverse world regions. Drawing upon the anthropologists Comaroff and Comaroff's discussion of “millennial capitalism” in contemporary Africa (2001), where capitalism and its agents are invested with the salvational power to restore and renew impoverished and war-torn societies (and to thus fulfill the failed promises of the postcolonial state to its citizens), we suggest that market institutions and agents are assuming state-like authority and prominence and the organization and reproduction of social order is increasingly secured by the visible hand of market intervention. In order to understand the phenomenon of "markets (and market actors) acting like states,” project researchers will examine the different ways in which free-market capitalism and other vectors of the new economy are routinely hailed as the solution to national, social problems: i.e. how the promise of entrepreneurship and the new economic order is configured in social rather than individual terms in India, China, Europe and Africa.

The project will examine the structural or programmatic as well as practical or lived dimensions of entrepreneurial citizenship, mapping in fact the alliances and disjunctures between citizenship as project and as practice. "Citizenship as a project” will be studied through a focus on two distinct but related policy/political arenas that are central to defining and delimiting the bounds and content of citizenship: migration policy and "anti-poverty” social policy (also described as "inclusive growth” policies). Thus migration policy through its delineation of inside/outside or citizen/foreigner determines who is the bearer of citizenship rights (and where such rights can be exercised), while social policy determines the content and meaning of such rights. Anti- poverty policies with their focus on how to ensure essential subsistence and human dignity provide a further delineation or specification: they mark the bare minimum or the ground zero of citizenship on which more elaborate edifices of rights can be built. Together then, the foreigner and the poor mark the limits of citizenship; the emergence of the "new citizen” can thus be understood by documenting the changing valence of these two political subjects.

Our preliminary research suggests that both migration policy and anti-poverty policies have been radically revised in recent years in India, China and Europe, around a new normative vision of the entrepreneurial citizen as the ideal citizen, and entrepreneurship as the dominant modality of citizen formation. Researchers will examine these new visions of citizenship in close detail, focusing in particular on the policy regimes that introduce and implement projects of "slum enterprise” and "migrant entrepreneurialism”. The latter implies not so much the phenomenon of burgeoning "migrant entrepreneurs” in host countries, but the emergence of a new regime of enterprise-promoting migration policy that mobilizes diasporas and reshapes labour markets and relations within and across nation-states (thus, the opening of EU labour agencies in African countries). The specific focus will be on how the idea of the entrepreneurial citizen works to reshape and restructure state sovereignty, whether (1) through the elevation of "the market” as  a state-like formation in terms of its "sacral power” or legitimacy and influence over the form and experience of citizenship; and (2) through the production of new spaces, transregional/transnational as well as sub-national, where the command of the national territorial state is reworked, suspended, or even rejected.

The second part of the project will explore the practices of entrepreneurial citizenship, or how the various anti-poverty and migration policy formations mapped by the project are actually produced and engaged with by individuals and social groups. Here, we are interested in seeing how the expectations of entrepreneurial citizenship are extended, modified, and reversed "on the ground.” To this end, researchers will conduct ethnographic and sociological studies of the different kinds of "entrepreneurial agency” that have been enabled by the new entrepreneurial policy formations of migration and poverty alleviation/inclusive growth (for e.g. the "micro-lender” and the "migrant labour contractor”).

The overall research design is comparative, whereby we grasp the complexities of global processes through examining their specific manifestations in different regional contexts. Thus, we expect to find similarities as well as differences across the projects and practices of entrepreneurial citizenship in India, China, and Europe. The excitement as well as the challenge of our trans-regional project is to pay attention to both, and to develop a theory of entrepreneurial citizenship that is neither assimilationist nor incommensurable.

Postdoctoral Projects

Nellie Chu

Risks and Desires: The Making of Transnational Migrant Entrepreneurialism in Guangzhou, China

Gerda Heck

Congolese Migration, Religion and Entrepreneurship


Photo credits: Dan Smyer Yü.


Prof. Dr. Sabine Hess

Professor of Cultural Anthropology / European Ethnology

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Institute of Cultural Anthropology / European Ethnology, Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14, 37073 Göttingen, Germany

+49 (0)551 39 25349

+49 (0)551 39 21241



Prof. Dr. Srirupa Roy

Professor of State and Democracy in Modern India and Director, Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS)

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Waldweg 26, 37073 Göttingen, Germany

+49 (0)551 39 20236

+49 (0)551 39 14215



Srirupa Roy is Chair of State and Democracy in Modern India and Director of the Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), at the University of Göttingen  Her research and publications have focused on two different aspects of the "Politics of the New": (1) the institutional and cultural practices of postwar "nation-building” undertaken in decolonizing nation-states such as India and (2) the politics of  "curative democracy" or democratic reform and the growing importance of non-electoral actors and institutions such as the media, judiciary, and civil society activism in democratic political life.

She is the author of Beyond Belief: India and the Politics of Postcolonial Nationalism (Duke University Press, 2007); co-editor of Visualizing Secularism and Religion: Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, India (University of Michigan Press, 2012) and Violence and Democracy (Seagull, 2006); numerous chapters in edited volumes and journal articles in Comparative Studies in Society and History; Political Communication; Journal of Asian Studies; South Asia; Interventions; Contributions to Indian Sociology.

Professor Roy has substantive experience in transregional research. She has been a co-recipient of an international collaborative research grant from the Social Science Research Council, which enabled a two-year collaborative transregional research project on the politics of secularism in the Middle East and South Asia. She has also co-directed two transregional research workshops at the European University Institute’s Mediterranean Research programme, which brought together scholars of South Asia and the Middle East. At an institutional level, Professor Roy served as the Senior Advisor for International Collaboration at the Social Science Research Council, where she helped to conceptualize and launch the Inter-Asia initiative for the promotion of transregional research among scholars of Asia. She continues to participate in institution and capacity-building initiatives for advancing transregional research, as a member of International Advisory Board for the Asia Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore; the senior researcher on the SSRC's Transregional Virtual Research Institute on "Media, Activism, and the New Political"; member of the SSRC's InterAsia Program Steering Committee and Postdoctoral Fellowship Selection Committee; member of the International Advisory Team of the World Social Science Fellows Program, International Social Science Council; and an editorial board member of the journal Critical Asian Studies.

Prof. Dr. Peter van der Veer


Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen

Hermann-Föge-Weg 11, 37073 Göttingen, Germany

+ 49 (0)551 4956 229

+49 (0)551 4956 170



Peter van der Veer is Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity at Göttingen. He has taught Anthropology at the Free University in Amsterdam, at Utrecht University and at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1992 he was appointed as Professor of Comparative Religion and Founding Director of the Research Center in Religion and Society in the Social Science Faculty of the University of Amsterdam. He served as Dean of the Social Science Faculty and as Dean of the Amsterdam School for Social Science Research at Amsterdam, and as Director of the International Institute for the Study of Islam and Chairman of the Board of the International Institute for Asian Studies, both in Leiden. In 1994 he was appointed as University Professor at Large at Utrecht University, a position he continues to hold. He received the Hendrik Muller Award for his social scientific study of religion. He is an elected Fellow of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Van der Veer works on religion and nationalism in Asia and Europe. He has published “The Modern Spirit of Asia” (Princeton University Press 2013) on the comparative study of religion and nationalism in India and China. Among his major publications are “Gods on Earth” (LSE Monographs, 1988), “Religious Nationalism” (University of California Press, 1994), and “Imperial Encounters” (Princeton University Press, 2001). He was editor or co-editor of “Orientalism and Post-Colonial Predicament” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), “Nation and Migration” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), “Conversion to Modernities” (Routledge, 1997), “Nation and Religion” (Princeton University Press, 1999), “Media, War, and Terrorism” (Routledge-Curzon, 2003), and “Patterns of Middle-Class Consumption in India and China” (Sage 2007).

Dr. Nellie Chu (2014-2016)

CETREN Postdoctoral Researcher in the project "Entrepreneurial Citizenship"

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen



Nellie Chu is a post-doctoral researcher in CETREN’s pilot program, “Entrepreneurial Citizenship.” As a cultural anthropologist from the University of California, Santa Cruz (2014), Nellie explores the intersection between culture and the economy within post-socialist contexts. Drawing from the subfields of economic anthropology and feminist anthropology, she examines how transnational commodity chains are created and linked through post-socialist transformations of city spaces, gendered labor, and worker identities. By pushing against theories of globalization and neoliberal governmentality that tend to homogenize market practices, her work emphasizes the diversity of people’s placed-based engagements with commodity production and exchange.

Her current book project, Anchors of Desire: The Crafting of Transnational Entrepreneurship in Southern China, draws from ethnographic research she conducted in Guangzhou from 2010-2012. There, she traced the emergence of migrant entrepreneurs within Guangzhou’s fast fashion sector as a case study into how Chinese citizens from the nation’s vast countryside attempted to become urbanized, desiring subjects through their experiments in fast fashion manufacture and trade. More broadly, her research analyzed the spatial and temporal dimensions of “the factory” within home-based workshops. There, workers’ experiences of labor refigured the politics of work that once served as sources of collective belonging. In the contemporary period, temporary factory workers saw their wage labor as intermediary stepping stones to becoming enterprising, self-employed agents.

Nellie’s new research project at CETREN investigates the role of transnational migrant entrepreneurs in linking the commodity chains of fast fashion in Guangzhou. She plans to trace the family and business relations of Korean, Nigerian, and Sengalese diasporic groups whose members live and work in Guangzhou. She examines how transnational migrants’ direct encounters with China’s post-socialist city spaces and labor relations transform their ideas of transnational entrepreneurship, which are increasingly defined by unequal relations of global commodity production and exchange. By observing these encounters, she analyzes the cross-cultural collaborations and contestations that these transnational migrant entrepreneurs from the post-socialist and post-colonial worlds have engendered.

Dr. Gerda Heck

CETREN Postdoctoral Researcher in the project "Entrepreneurial Citizenship"

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14, 37073 Göttingen, Germany

+49 (0)551 39 21246

+49 (0)551 39 21284



Gerda Heck is a post-doctoral researcher in CETREN’s “Entrepreneurial Citizenship” project. Her main research interests are focused on migration and border regimes, urban studies, transnational migration, migrant networks, self-organizing, religion and new concepts of citizenship. She is a member of “kritnet ”, Network for Critical Migration- and Border- Regime Research (

She received her PhD in Sociology in 2006. In her dissertation she discussed the phenomenon of undocumented immigration in Germany and the US, and mainly focused on the development of the migration regime in both states, the public discussion on the subject and the influencing thereof by relevant initiatives.

From 2006 until 2010 she conducted research in Morocco on the shifting of EU migration policy towards North African countries and the strategies of sub-Saharan migrants on the migration routes towards Europe. For this purpose she undertook several field research trips to Morocco as well as to the Spanish exclaves Ceuta and Melilla.

Within the scope of the international and interdisciplinary research project “Global Prayers – Redemption and Liberation in the City“ ( she has been investigating since 2010 the role of the new revival church communities on the migration routes in different cities with regard to Congolese migration. To this end she conducted a multi-sited ethnographic research in Berlin (Germany), Istanbul (Turkey), Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo), Paris (France) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). In this research she showed how Congolese migrants establish themselves as Christians in the urban context on the migration routes: how transnational mobility, religious networks, religious belief, sacred spaces and informal economy are used by the migrants to establish themselves (temporarily) as sub-Saharan Christians in the various cities.

With her new research at CETREN  she extends her previous work on the entanglement of the religious and commercial,  as well as the importance of the “suitcase trade” within the Congolese diaspora. Drawing on the concept of “flexible citizenship” (Ong 1999), she will investigate the ways in which Congolese migrants and traders in Guangzhou try to establish themselves both locally and in their respective cities of residence (in Europe or Africa) and gain rights.


T: +49 551 39 21286
F: +49 551 39 21284


Georg-Universität-Universität Göttingen
Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14
37073 Göttingen