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Lecture | Research Seminar

FGGA Research Seminar: Out of Line: The Political and Distributive Salience of Queues, Lines, and Ordered Waiting

Wednesday 22 May 2019
The seminar is open to everyone.
FGGA Research Seminars
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague
Room 3.16


This paper examines three distinct trends in popular thinking about contemporary distributive justice issues. The first trend relies on the idea that beneficiaries of programs such as Affirmative Action or even welfare are cutting in line. The second trend is the rash of populist political parties with slogans that claim to put the nation’s people first. The third trend is the call for undocumented immigrants to “go to the back of the line” instead of seeking regularization, amnesty or a pathway to citizenship. The common trait that links these three trends is the use of a frame that encourages people to (a) imagine themselves and others as waiting in a line to receive important fundamental rights and benefits associated with citizenship, and (b) imagine that other undeserving people are cutting in line rather than waiting their turn. I argue that the use of the frame of line-standing in politics has powerful and troubling implications for the ways in which many ordinary people think about distributive justice. In this paper, I use insights from disciplines outside of political science (primarily sociology, management behavior, and law) to explore why line-standing is a powerful and pernicious political frame that undermines fairer systems of distributive justice. The bulk of the paper focuses on what line-standing means to people rather than on detailing specific instances of line-standing as a frame. 


Elizabeth F. Cohen is associate professor of Political Science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and a senior research associate at the Campbell Institute for Public Affairs. She received a BA from Swarthmore College and a Ph.D. from Yale University.  She has been a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation and the Wagner School of Public Service, New York University.

Elizabeth is the author of four books: The Political Value of Time: Citizenship, Duration, and Democratic Justice (Cambridge University Press, March 2018) and Semi-Citizenship in Democratic Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2009); Citizenship (with Cyril Ghosh) (Polity Press forthcoming in 2019), and Illegal: How America’s Lawless Immigration Regime Threatens Us All ) forthcoming from Basic Books in 2019. Her scholarly articles have appeared in venues such as Ethics in International Affairs, Citizenship Studies, Perspectives on Politics, Polity, the Duke Journal of Constitutional Law and Public Policy, and the Saint Louis University Law Journal, among others.

In addition to her scholarly writing, Elizabeth has also published op-eds in newspapers such as the Washington Post and Politico. Her work on immigration has been cited by the New York Times and she serves on the advisory board for the American Bar Association’s citizenship and public education project.  

Elizabeth’s research interests focus on contemporary political theory, justice, immigration, citizenship, and rights. She is currently working on a book about the political significance of line-waiting and another that examines the rise of short-term immigration and the casualization of citizenship in the contemporary United States. 

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