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Title: Omitted Lives: Access to Civil Registration and its Implications for Inequality
Authors: Cheong, Amanda Rachel
Advisors: Massey, Douglas S
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: citizenship
civil registration
Subjects: Sociology
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation addresses a topic of concern within international development today, which is that 1 in 4 children under the age of 5 worldwide have not been registered at birth (UNICEF 2017). I identify the causes for why so many people are left out of civil registration systems and the consequences of such exclusion for individuals’ lives and states’ development aspirations. I conducted 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Malaysia, during which I provided paralegal assistance to migrants and other marginalized families who faced challenges in obtaining basic documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and identity cards. I also conducted over 100 “document inventories” of households living on palm oil plantations, informal settlements, and urban areas, which is a method I developed to catalogue the evidence a family possesses to substantiate their identities. I supplement this fieldwork with a case study of Myanmar based on historical sources and qualitative interviews. My main argument challenges the assumption that under-registration is the result of a lack of state capacity. I draw attention to how the recording of vital events, more than being a routine bureaucratic task, has profound socio-legal implications—most importantly for the determination of citizenship. I demonstrate that who gets counted, and how, are inherently political choices, and that these choices are often made in ways that exclude migrants and racial minorities from the nation by depriving them of the means to prove their legal personhood. In highlighting the voices and experiences of the families I followed, I demonstrate how omission from civil registration has reverberant negative consequences for people’s lives, including ineligibility to attend school, arrests and detentions, the denial of reproductive healthcare, and the intergenerational transmission of irregular legal status. At the state level, I show how bureaucratic procedures for maintaining civil registration systems have been influenced by racialized fears about the demographic threats posed by migrants, which have transformed attitudes about the counting of births from being administrative tools, to being declarations about the boundaries of national identity and belonging.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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