Prof. Dr Dvora Yanow

Senior Fellow

Research Project at the Centre

Citizen-making by the Numbers: Counting, Category-making, and the State

How do state-created categories, such as those used in censuses, work, and what work do they do, for turning immigrants into citizens? Why do some state residents not find themselves represented in the list of category names, and what are the implications for the stability of the category structure when that occurs? What are the effects for the inclusion and exclusion of new state members, of categories that those designated come to experience as pejorative? These are three of the key questions animating this research project. The project develops theoretical insights from empirical research. Specifically, it addresses issues in the achievement of cultural pluralism and social equality which pose challenges to democratic legitimacy and participation.  Its concerns also touch on the place of cultural values in the national identity stories that, I argue, categories such as these enable; the links between these categories and political inequalities; and the ways in which ongoing fear of otherness and difference challenge the ideal of democratic pluralities.

Drawing on policy-oriented field research conducted in The Netherlands over the last several years, the project critically assesses the implications of The Netherlands’ categories for the social inclusion and exclusion of immigrant groups. It extends theorizing about categories and category-making from previous research in Israel and the US (Yanow 1992, 1996a, b, 1999, 2003, 2015). Although drawing on case material from a single nation-state, it has implications for theoretical understanding and policy practices that reach beyond the state’s borders. The empirical material suggests a paradox characteristic of governmental category-making of this sort wherever it occurs: the categories created to enumerate group achievements and thereby implement social justice goals often end up as pejorative designators of immigrant groups, undermining and even negating their integration and thereby the very social justice the categories were intended to achieve.


April 2016 – March 2017