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What Is Citizenship?

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Historically, the western understanding of the concept can be traced back to the political culture of the ancient Greek city state. The citizens were defined as free individuals, i.e. men, who were involved in the public affairs of the city-state. A citizen was connected to the civic virtues of Athenian democracy, which was marked by the subordination of the private life to the dedication to public affairs and the “common good” (Held, 1996: 17). The citizen was a “homo politicus”. With the political and social hegemony of Christianity during the Middle Ages this way of understanding citizenship eclipsed and was replaced by “homo credens”. A public political order or public life outside the religious order of Christianity was abandoned. The order of things was not connected to the public realm of republican commitment of the citizens, but to the commitment and subordination to the will of God.

The republican virtues of citizenship gained new foothold during the Renaissance in the Italian city-states. Still, it was the French revolution, starting in 1789, that provided the framework for thinking and practising citizenship within the formation of modern nation-states. Below I shall describe how the heritage of the French revolution is still with us today, and likewise the political and social processes that constitute important challenges to this heritage. However, before doing so it might be a good idea shortly to explore some features of the concept of citizenship from a more abstract and politically theoretical point of view.

From a politically theoretical point of view citizenship is what constitutes the membership of and belonging to a political community, and consequently the creation of and life as political subjects. Some of the central elements of citizenship, the formal, legal rights and duties of individuals and groups are establishing a legitimate sphere, according to which all members of the community in principle can act without arbitrary or unjust interference from other individuals or from the community. In a democracy it is the autonomy of individuals and groups as political agents that is the key guiding normative principle of the political life. The British political scientist David Held defines autonomy in this way in his book “Democracy and the Global Order (1995):
”[citizenship is] a principle that recognises the indispensability of ”equal autonomy” for all citizens. If peoples´ equal interest in democracy is to be protected, they require an equal capacity to act across key political institutions and sites of power” (Held, 1995:71).
The belonging of autonomous citizens to a political community is centred around two key aspects. The first aspect is connected to the political institutions of society. The relations of individuals and groups to these institutions are structured around the formal, legal rights, and duties which the members of the community possess. The second aspect is concerned with the public activities through which the members of the community clarify and debate communal affairs. Here citizenship is not related directly to the formal and institutional feeling of belonging of the political subjects, but to the discussion and deliberating of communal affairs. Citizenship, according to this second aspect, is primarily related to the political identities that are expressed and created through the participation in the political public life of the community.
To be a member of a national or ethnic community, understood as a historical, cultural community, is not identical with citizenship membership. But it is also very important to stress the fact that categories of citizenship, i.e. membership of a political community, very often overlap those of cultural similarity. Citizenship in its stringent political interpretation can analytically be distinguished from cultural categories and identities, still, it is very difficult to do so in practice. Very often the understandings of citizenship bear more or less implicit imprints of ways in which citizenship is interpreted and understood within a specific culturally defined historical context.
As I intend to show later, citizenship gains a specific meaning in relation to the historical settings and socio-cultural conflicts that help establish and maintain the boundaries of a community. Because citizenship functions as a way of demarcating the boundaries of a community, and as a way of pointing out its members, it seems very difficult not to operate in the context of culturally defined categories and identities. In that respect the categories of citizenship are categories of identity and cultural policies.
It is in this perspective that Bryan S. Turner, the Australian sociologist, (1994) points out that citizenship is not merely concerned with the membership and status of a political community. Turner wants to avoid the tendency to restrict the meaning of citizenship only to be of political character. The concept also has to be placed within a broader sociological frame of reference. A sociological understanding of citizenship focuses upon the fact that citizenship identifies both a set of practises that are of social, legal, political and cultural character, and that these practises are institutionalised as normative social arrangements

”(…) which determine membership of a community. Citizenship is the new fellowship (Genossenschaft) of the modern state. Within this perspective, cultural citizenship consists of those social practices which enable a competent citizen to participate fully in the national culture. Educational institutions (…) are thus crucial to cultural citizenship, because they are an essential aspect of socialisation of the child into this national system of values” (ibid:158)

In the following I shall take into consideration both the political and sociological understanding of citizenship. Thus, citizenship is an inclusive term that in different spheres deals with the ways in which community membership is created and recreated, and not the least, how and by whom the conditions of membership and feelings of belonging are constructed and limited. If we look more closely at one of the main sources for revitalising the concept of citizenship from the late 1980s this become apparent.

Politics of belonging: Exclusion/inclusion
In the booming interest and debate concerning citizenship in the Anglo-American world from the late 1980s until today the article “Citizenship and social Class” from 1950 by the British sociologist T.H. Marshall has been a central point of reference. Marshall’s article consists of a historical-sociological analysis of the development of modern citizenship. This might seem surprising, as his definition on citizenship is rather conventional:
“Citizenship is a status bestowed on those who are full members of a community. All who possess the status are equal with respect to the rights and duties with which the status is bestowed. There is no universal principle that determines what those rights and duties shall be, but societies in which citizenship is a developing institution create an image of an ideal citizenship against which achievement can be measured and towards which aspiration can be directed” (Marshall:1994:17).
According to Marshall the development of citizenship is seen in the light of those rights and duties, that determine the legal status of membership of a community. Marshall´s analysis follows the development of these rights and duties of modern citizenship through three centuries. In the 18th century the civil rights were established, through which some basic rights of the individual were sanctioned: Freedom of speech, the right to private ownership, the right to enter contracts and equality before the law. The liberties of the individual were the main concern of civil rights. The task was to secure these liberties to everyone (in principle), through the construction of a legal system with the Court of Law as the institutional axis. The civil rights also had a narrower aim, viz. to secure that the individual could act and compete in the capitalistic market economy. In that respect, the codex of liberty of the civil rights corresponded to the development of modern capitalism.
In the 19th century the political rights were developed. These rights secured that individuals and groups had influence and were able to participate in exercising the political power, as members of a political group or party. Thus it became possible for hitherto politically excluded groups to mobilise in the political processes of society. The individual focus upon civil rights was reorganised in such a way that groups, parties, organisations and unions gained rights and power in the form of wages, better working conditions etc. Contrary to the civil rights, the political rights broke with the functional complementarity between citizenship and capitalism.
The last set of rights and duties was developed during the 20th century. The central elements are the social rights that grew out of the modern welfare-state of Western nation-states after the Second World War. Social security systems, policies of housing and education were some of the central features of social citizenship. The social rights of the welfare-state were to secure that the equality of the citizens was cut loose from social inequality which, from Marshall’s point of view, was an inherent and unavoidable logical consequence of capitalism.
However, nor is Marshall’s understanding of citizenship restricted to the formal rights and duties. In his definition of citizenship there is another and more informal aspect. Marshall adds the following dimension to his understanding of citizenship:
“It was increasingly recognised, as the nineteenth century wore on, that political democracy needed an electorate, and that scientific manufacture needed educated workers and technicians. The duty to improve and civilise oneself is therefore a social duty, and not merely a personal one, because the social health of a society depends upon the civilisation of its members. And a community that enforces this duty has begun to realise that its culture is an organic unity and its civilisation a national heritage (ibid:16) (…) Citizenship requires a bond of a different kind, a direct sense of community membership based on loyalty to a civilisation which is in common possession. It is loyalty of free men endowed with rights and protected by a common law” (ibid:23).
The socially constituted duties and loyalties are recognised as being the basis of the feeling of belonging to a culture, a national heritage. This is the second central feature of citizenship. Besides the formal status of the citizens, citizenship also contains socio-cultural bonds of belonging, “a direct sense of community”. In Marshall’s view it was the lack of education and economic resources that prevented the working class from being full members of the community and integrated in the common national culture. However, this could be obtained if the inequalities and conflicts of the capitalist society were modified and regulated by the social rights of the modern welfare-state. In Marshall’s view social citizenship, including education, was considered to be a crucial factor in maintaining the social and cultural coherence of society, and the factor that was able to generate and reproduce the communal loyalty and solidarity across class-divisions and conflicts.
The key to understand why Marshall’s analysis of the development of modern citizenship gained new interest during the 1980s is the way he operates with these two different, but complementary dimensions of the concept. Formal “universal” rights and duties on the one hand, and feelings of belonging and loyalty to a community on the other hand. Marshall is underlining that citizenship concerns the development of the feeling of belonging to and loyalty to a community in a very broad sense. Or formulated in another way, citizenship is about the “politics of belonging”, as Stuart Hall and David Held (1989) phrase it,
“From the ancient world to the present day, citizenship has entailed a discussion of, and a struggle over, the meaning and scope of membership of community in which one lives. Who belongs and what does belonging mean in practice (...) The issues around membership - who does and who does not belong - is where politics of citizenship begins. It is impossible to chart the history of the concept very far without coming sharply up against successive attempts to restrict citizenship to certain groups and to exclude others. In different historical periods different groups have led, and profited from this “politics of closure”: property-owners, men, white people, the educated, those in particular occupations or with particular skills, adults (Hall & Held, 1989: 175).

However, if one looks at citizenship from the point of view suggested by Hall & Held, what they call “politics of closure”, several blind spots and weaknesses in Marshall’s description and analysis of citizenship are revealed. Below I shall explore some of the criticism of Marshall, because in an exemplary manner they show that active citizenship as politics of belonging and education is a very complex and ambiguous phenomena.

The Members of Community

In the first place, it is not obvious that the development of citizenship rights and duties has reached a final ending point after the implementation of social rights of the national welfare-state. The British sociologist Anthony Giddens has criticised Marshall’s approach for being based on a too simple evolutionary thesis. If one accepts this thesis there is a possibility to overlook the fact that both the establishment of the social rights of the welfare-state, and the other rights too, were and still are the result of political and social struggle and conflict.

Giddens points out that the attack on the welfare-state in the 1980s by the British Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher, can be regarded as a middle class reaction and as an opposition against the institutions and social arrangements that primarily were connected with the interests of the working-class and underprivileged groups. Giddens is drawing the attention to the fact that the growing interest in the concept of citizenship in the 1980s emerged in a period where Marshall’s hopes for the egalitarian power of citizenship were put under severe pressure by the neo-liberalist Conservative administration. Paradoxically, the interest in the concept of citizenship, and Marshall´s in particular, appears at a historical time where the consensus about the positive and progressive implications of social citizenship is undermined.
Seen from the the British right wing perspective, the promotion of active citizenship was not connected to the maintaining or extending of the social rights of the welfare-state. It is more likely that the welfare-state, in the social-liberal version that Marshall imagined, was considered to be a crucial factor in preventing and undermining active citizenship. Active citizenship was undermined because the welfare-state, or the “nanny-state” as it was called, did not promote individual engagement in the voluntary and private organisations which, from a Conservative point of view, were seen as the core of a responsible and active citizenship. Nor did the right wing agree on Marshall’s approach to capitalism. Douglas Hurd, the Conservative Home Secretary, stated this point in the following way:
”The idea of Active Citizenship is a necessary complement to that of enterprise culture. Public service may once have been the duty of an elite, but today it is the responsibility of all who have time or money. Modern capitalism has democratised the ownership of property, and we are now witnessing the democratisation of responsible citizenship
It is interesting to note that (active) citizenship became a key concept in the 1980s with the British left-wing, too. In the book “New Times” from 1989, prominent scholars on the left set out to explore how to redefine and renew the ideological basis and political agenda of western socialism. In the introduction to the book it was stated that the left-wing had to do so because of the profound changes that were restructuring western societies. Liberalism and post-Fordist capitalism were undermining the economic basis of the modern welfare state. In particular, this was seen as a consequence of the ways in which the “Thatcher-regime” was liberalising and deregulating British economy, liquidating the welfare-state.
This development, according to the authors of “New Times”, corresponded with similar tendencies in the late 1980s in Germany (Kohl), in the US (Reagan) and in France (Mitterand). The left-wing was considered to be in a severe political crisis since it was difficult to see from which platform future progressive left-wing politics could be articulated. A problem that was reinforced by the fact that a very large percentage of the working class changed parties and became Conservative voters during the 1980s. It is in this context that the left re-established citizenship as a “new” discourse from where progressive left-wing politics could be articulated. Geoff Andrews states the purpose in this way,
”Citizenship therefore offers the left the possibility of ideological renewal, it could even become the much mooted ”Big Idea”, which has been missing from left politics generally” (ibid:14)
So, during the 1980s, both the left and the right “re-discovered” active citizenship as a key concept in the ongoing political struggle for power. But they did so according to opposite reasons, and with totally different political purposes.
The second problem in Marshall’s analysis is that he did not realise that the rise of modern citizenship did not take the same course of development in other nation-states as in Great Britain. Thus, Marshall’s analysis could be criticised for being Anglo-centric. From this outset Michael Mann, in his article “Ruling Class Strategies and Citizenship” from 1987, explores the ways in which citizenship rights were developed and implemented with different priorities in different European nation-states and in different periods. He also shows that citizenship rights were a central part of “ruling class strategies”. Modern citizenship rights were functioning as an instrument in securing the stability and power of the dominant classes. Citizenship, in Mann’s perspective, is not only a source to equality and a key to moderate class divisions of society. According to Mann citizenship was a way to ensure, that the hegemony of the ruling classes remained intact. In the perspective of power relations citizenship is a much more ambiguous phenomenon than Marshall revealed. Citizenship rights, and particularly the social rights of the welfare-state, can function as sophisticated means in controlling, disciplining, and surveying a population.
In the third place, Marshall ignored that the political rights of the 19th century did not include women. From a feminist perspective Marshall’s evolutionary thesis is inscribed in a well-established patriarchal tradition for overlooking the fact that “universal” democratic political rights were shaped without half of the population being incorporated in this process in the first place. This gender-blindness is another power relation that is ignored by Marshall.
Finally, Marshall’s definition is characterised by another ambiguity. On the one hand, his way of speaking of the community is so vague that, in principle, it could include anything from the local community to the “global village”. In the light of Marshall’s account it should be possible to imagine active citizenship and the feeling of belonging on different community levels, a “multi-layered” citizenship so to speak. On the other hand, Marshall, in defining the dimension of the community, used phrases like an organic unity, and its civilisation a national heritage. Still, Marshall did not problematise this civilisation and national heritage which constitutes the frame of loyalty and the feeling of belonging. Marshall was operating on the implicit premise that the community of citizenship corresponded to the nation as an imagined community. Marshall himself did not discuss if the nation-state could serve as the overall frame for citizenship because he did not consider such a discussion necessary. However, this omission had two implications for considering citizenship which are important to bear in mind, and which I want to bring into focus below.
In Marshall’s perspective, the first implication for active citizenship is that Great Britain is looked upon as a culturally homogeneous and integrated entity. The consequence is that the cultural diversity of communities is ignored. However, the renewed interest in citizenship in the 1980s and particularly in the 1990s has revealed that there are other conflicts in the concept of the politics of the feeling of belonging than those connected to class divisions. Will Kymlicka, the Canadian political philosopher, formulates it in this way,
“It has become clear (…) that many groups - blacks, women, Aboriginal peoples, ethnic and religious minorities, gays and lesbians - still feel excluded from “the common culture”, despite possessing the common rights of citizenship. Members of these groups feel excluded not only because of their socio-economic status but also because of their socio-cultural identity - their difference” (Kymlicka, 1994:370).
The second implication is that it is overlooked that the status of the nation-state as a political and cultural community has been put under severe pressure from different processes of globalisation. These processes are questioning whether the status of the nation-state as a “naturalised” frame for active citizenship can or should be maintained. In other words, cultural diversity inside the nation-states, and globalisation are putting some very important questions that I want to explore in detail in the following,

  • Can national communities serve as an adequate frame for the education of active citizenship? Should the future education for active citizenship favour the promotion of a national identity as politics of belonging?

  • Or should this aim be given up in order to cope with the political, social and cultural change­lessness that globalisation and cultural diversity are placing on the citizenship agenda? If yes, what are the alternatives? If no, what kind of national community should be promoted?

As far as I can see, these questions have to be dealt with, if education for active citizenship is to be considered meaningful in the future. If the purpose of education for active citizenship is to create an autonomous political subject, one has to place it in the perspective of globalisation and cultural diversity.

However, to do so it is required that the terms “globalisation” and “cultural diversity” are made clear. But to do so is not an easy or simple task. Like the concept of citizenship itself, the implications of globalisation and cultural diversity for the possible way of thinking citizenship and identity are essentially contested. Likewise, the implications for the national community which until today has been at the centre of citizenship education in Europe and most other places in the world. But before I proceed to explore the meaning and consequences of globalisation and cultural diversity, it is necessary to place citizenship in another historical setting. In doing so I intend to explore the close historical links between citizenship as a modern political institution, the process of nation-building, and the political education of the school.

Universalism versus particularism?
Hall & Held point out that the meaning of citizenship as a modern political concept is closely related to the French revolution in 1789, and particularly to the famous normative principles and virtues of liberty, equality and brotherhood. At the beginning of the revolution these virtues were based upon a universal thinking of revolutionary citizenship, according to which cultural differences were absorbed,
”(…) into one common universal status – the citizen (…) This language of universality and equality is what distinguished this moment – the moment of the ”Rights of Man” – from earlier phases in the long march of citizenship (ibid: 176).
In his famous comparative study of the development of “Citizenship in Germany and France” from 1992, Rogers Brubaker is pointing out this distinctive universal moment of the revolution too. When the revolutionaries constituted themselves as “The national Assembly” they declared the sovereignty of the nation as a political entity too, in order to mark out that the revolution was to be regarded as a break with the political thinking of the “Ancient Regime” and its aristocratic and ecclesiastical dominance. However, membership of the national community was perceived in a universal and political understanding. The nation was not perceived in ethno-cultural terms. Thus, one of the famous revolutionaries Sieyes was able to define the nation in this way,
”What is a nation? A body of associates living under the common law and represented under the same legislature” (ibid: 7).

The French revolution in its outset took over the “laissez-faire” cosmopolitanism of the “Ancient Regime”. In principle everyone was invited to join the revolution which was considered to be the universal contribution to the benefit of mankind. However, this universal way of thinking was redefined radically during the revolution itself, particularly in continuation of the war with Prussia in 1792. From this historical moment the new revolutionary order was regarded as besieged and threatened by internal and external enemies. The revolutionary cosmopolitanism had a complementary element in the form of a xenophobic nationalism. In Brubaker´s view this was a turning point of the revolution that was as important as the introduction of democratic principles and republican citizenship.

From now on foreigners were persecuted and excluded from the revolution, their belongings were confiscated, and their staying in Paris forbidden. The explanation of this change of conceptualising community and politics could be seen as a logical consequence of the experiences of war, civil revolts, and internal struggles between the revolutionary fractions. But why were foreigners in general regarded as potential enemies, and not only foreigners who belonged to hostile countries. Brubaker answers this question as follows,
”The answer has to do with the logic of the nation-state. A nation-state is a nation’s state, the state of and for a particular, bounded, sovereign nation, to which foreigners, by definition, do not belong. Legally homogenous internally, it is by virtue of this very fact more sharply bounded externally than a heterogeneous state such as pre-Revolutionary France. Sharp external boundedness does not dictate the terms on which resident foreigners are to be treated; but it does mark them clearly and axiomatically as outsiders – paradigmatic outsiders. By inventing the national citizen and the legally homogenous national citizenry, the revolution simultaneously invented the foreigner. Henceforth citizen and foreigner would be correlative, mutually exclusive, exhaustive categories (…) The nation-state may, indeed must, discriminate between citizens and foreigners. It is in this sense inherently nationalistic. Its nationalism needs not to be the aggressive or xenophobic sort of 1792 and after. More often it has a routine, normal taken-for-granted quality. Both sorts of nationalism – the normal ”background” nationalism of the nation-state and the noisy, bellicose variety descends to us from the French Revolution (ibid: 46-47).
Brubaker is of the opinion that out of the French revolution a political principle of the territorial demarcated nation-state was born as the frame for obtaining citizenship. In this connection the distinction between outsiders and insiders was of crucial importance. The insider was defined positively as a member of the national community, the outsider was defined negatively as an outsider, as a foreigner or a “stranger”. Thus, the modern concept of citizenship was closely related to the exclusion and construction of outsiders and strangers. The legitimacy and efficiency of citizenship, and the sovereignty of the nation-state, depended on the capacity of differentiating between the individuals and groups that were considered to be members of the national community, and the ones who were not. In its historical outset citizenship as a modern political institution was nationalist, too. Or rather, that this ambiguity between the universalism of human rights and the cultural particularism of the national community became an inherent feature of citizenship that is still with us today.
Foreigners born in France could relatively easily obtain the status of full citizenship. In the French political culture “jus soli” or place of birth became the guiding principle for obtaining citizenship. In principle this inclusive practice was connected with a strategy of assimilating the “strangers”. The price that had to be paid for membership of the French nation and thus to obtain citizenship rights was the duty to accept to be French, to be loyal to the French nation, and to go through the cultural process of cultural homogenisation of the educational system.
In Brubaker´s view citizenship as a national practice of exclusion and inclusion is linked with a standardised national programme of political education through which the loyalty towards and belonging to the French republic was ensured. The construction of citizenship and national identity goes hand in hand with the construction of a centralised educational system.
So, if we accept the general perspective of Brubaker´s argument, there has historically been a close affinity between the consolidation of the territorial nation-state as a political entity, the construction of national identity, and citizenship. And there has been a close affinity between citizenship, cultural homogenisation and the oppression of cultural diversity. A main vehicle in constructing these affinities has been the educational system controlled by the nation-state. All over the world this is still the case. The link between citizenship and the promotion of national identity and the feeling of belonging are functioning as a global phenomenon. However, this does not mean that these links have to be preserved in the future. Ongoing processes of globalisation call them into question.

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