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An odd and somewhat disquieting feature of citizenship talk in the academy is its oscillation between two discursive poles, one formalistic and the other substantive. We commonly speak of the legal principles that regulate the statuses of citizen and non-citizen. But we also speak of what citizenship actually means in a society in which citizens and aliens tend to be unequal in resources as well as in status. We generally use the formalistic conception to describe what the law says citizenship is, and the substantive conception to compare what it is with what we think it could and should be. This tension between formal and substantive conceptions of citizenship reflects, among other things, the stark differences among legal rules, political realities, and civic aspirations.

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