Is Citizenship only a human condition? If we characterize citizenship solely through the lens of “belonging,” one could argue that many non-human species bear the instinct to identify themselves within groups of inclusion, even demarcating territory in some way or another. Rather than being driven by political motivations, their instincts of inclusion are guided primarily by ecologically contingent factors. As such, it would not be absurd to consider birds as citizens of their migratory paths, or bats as citizens of their caves.
Citizenship, however, is not apolitical – even in its extension toward the world of non-humans. In 2017, Saudi Arabia granted full citizenship to a humanoid robot, Sophia, marking the first time in history that a robot has been made a citizen of any country. Such a decision urges us to ask a number of questions. What does it mean for a robot to be given citizenship rights by a country that denies equal rights for women? Is it possible to be a full-fledged citizen, and yet still reside in “captivity”—or under ownership – by others? If it is now possible to grant citizenship to non-humans, how might we begin to define criteria for including them within human society?
Joyce Hwang is the Director of Ants of the Prairie and an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University at Buffalo SUNY. She is a recipient of the Architectural League Emerging Voices Award, the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, the MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and is co-editor of Beyond Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice. antsoftheprairie.com | @PrairieAnt