Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Global Social Policy
School of International Policy and Governance
Globally, 850 million people lack identity documents, including birth certificates. Most of the world’s paperless people are living in poverty in rural areas and belong to ethnic minority groups or racialized peoples. Some 237 million children under the age of five currently lack a birth certificate, and risk joining the world’s 15 million stateless people. Within countries, gaps in birth registration coverage map closely onto existing social inequalities based on gender, race, ethnicity, class, and geographic location. Lacking documentation and proof of legal citizenship, they will be unable to enjoy the full range of human rights. A global push is underway to achieve universal birth registration by 2030 as part of the UN Sustainable Development Agenda. At the same time, states desperate to control human mobility are enacting increasingly restrictive migration and border control measures at and beyond the physical border. What happens when the unregistered cross international borders, and have children of their own? Or when borders are brought to the unregistered, who are then issued documents identifying them as not-belonging?
Birth Registration as Bordering Practice contrasts global development efforts to achieve universal birth registration with the everyday bordering practices which undermine achievement of that goal. The dissertation argues that the problem is not merely the non-registration of birth, but rather that birth registration, as an exercise of state power, is the mechanism of inclusion/exclusion. When birth registration is made a bordering practice, children born to pregnant people on the move—and other multiply marginalized mothers—are made stateless for generations to come. To understand how this happens, the study draws on intersectional feminist theory and border studies to critically examine how borders are enacted in the process of birth registration for migrants, refugees, and minority groups with precarious status. It tracks a particular human rights challenge—exclusion from birth registration—across a range of contexts in order to elevate the visibility of the problem and conceptualize how it is produced from a feminist migration perspective on global governance. The dissertation establishes the global scope of the problem through analysis of a dataset of UN treaty body recommendations on birth registration issued to 58 countries across the five major regions of the world. It then takes an in-depth look at a particular location through case study research in the southern border region of the Dominican Republic. Interviews with 50 families of Haitian ancestry and two focus groups reveal how discursive, corporeal, spatial, and temporal birth registration bordering practices block their Dominican-born children from citizenship, despite (or through) state efforts to modernize the civil registry and regularize the status of migrants and their descendants. Findings from the Global Inventory and case study are brought together to propose a typology of bordering practices that are enacted in the birth registration process. The thesis concludes by reflecting on what this feminist conceptualization of birth registration as bordering practice reveals about the global governance of human mobility and citizenship in a world on the move.
Interdisciplinary in nature, the dissertation contributes to at least five sets of literature related to migration, gender, international development, human rights, and statelessness. It contributes to refugee and migration studies by offering the first full-length global inventory of exclusion of migrants’ descendants from birth registration, and the corresponding risk of statelessness for generations to come. The study raises the profile of this rights violation by linking it to broader debates on identity documentation, temporary migration and refugee protection schemes, status and irregularization. It also advances border theory by conceptualizing corporeal and temporal bordering, and by proposing a typology of bordering practices enacted within birth registration. Second, the study contributes to the gender and migration literature by focusing on migrant women’s experiences seeking to register their children and linking it to broader debates on migrant women’s rights. Third, the dissertation contributes to international human rights and development studies by taking a critical human rights-based approach to the study of birth registration as an issue which recently emerged on the global development agenda. It overcomes the prevailing siloed, single-issue approach to the study of birth registration as a matter of children’s rights by taking an intersectional approach, which reveals patterns and mechanisms of exclusion of multiply marginalized population groups. The relational perspective on women’s rights and children’s rights enables linked-up thinking about various types of rights violations, such as the right to sexual and reproductive health and the child’s human right to identity and a nationality. Finally, the dissertation makes a theoretical contribution to critical citizenship and statelessness studies by drawing on intersectional feminist and border theory to develop a feminist conceptualization of how statelessness is produced when birth registration is made a bordering practice.
Petrozziello, Allison J., "Birth Registration as Bordering Practice: A Feminist Analysis of Migration Governance and the Production of Statelessness" (2023). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 2572.
Available for download on Thursday, July 24, 2025