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What Is Citizenship?

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Cultural autonomy

Individual choice and selfdetermination

A deliberative model

According to Jürgen Habermas, the German political philosopher, the intimate link between citizenship and national identity has to be given up. Thanks to the impact of economic globalisation and expanding cultural diversity within the nation-states, the national community of fate is quickly disintegrating. Democratic politics and citizenship can no longer be oriented towards a centralised nation-state or towards a social whole or collective subject such as the nation. Instead he imagines democratic participation and active citizenship within the context of a decentralised society. What could bind a democratic entity together is “the higher level intersubjectivity of communication processes that flow through both the parliamentary bodies and informal networks of the public sphere”. If the political goal of active citizenship and political deliberation is to ensure social solidarity and coherence of society, Habermas considers that time has come to separate active citizenship from cultural identities. Cultural identities can no longer function as mediators of communication processes of citizenship, because “we” are not able to establish collective consensus about these identities in a multicultural society. What is needed is the establishment of de-culturalised political arenas, and the reinforcement of democratic consideration can take place according to abstract and universal principles of processes of communication. In Habermas´ view a culturally embedded commination is a source of political disorientation and potentially irrational.

Bhikhu Parekh, the British-Indian political theorist, (2000) is inspired by Habermas. He also thinks that the vision of active citizenship and democratic consideration centred in the nation-state has to be given up. The Westphalian Order of unity between territory, sovereignty and culture (or identity) is rapidly disintegrating. In this way Parekh thinks within a cosmopolitan perspective of European integration.
But he does not believe that the deliberative way of considering democracy and citizenship can or should be cut loose from the feeling of belonging culturally and identities. Parekh does not believe that it is possible to arrive at a situation where political dialogue or deliberation is conducted according to abstract principles and procedures, in the way for instance Habermas thinks. Political deliberation cannot be culturally “purified”, nor is it the aim of democratic deliberation to overcome cultural diversity. Parakh´s version of deliberative model of democracy, like that of Habermas´, is also dialogically constituted but
“[it] stresses the centrality of a dialogue between cultures and the ethical norms, principles and institutional structures presupposed and generated by it” (Parekh, 2000. 14).
All multicultural societies consist of cultural communities, each of them with distinct characters, traditions, customs, memories, and social practises which make it possible to differentiate them from other cultural communities. On the other hand, cultural communities are not isolated islands, and thanks to cultural globalisation all cultural communities are in a process of more or less constant change. Cultural communities are constituted historically, they do not develop according to some co-ordinating authority or logic, they are forming complex and non-systematic wholes.
To belong to a cultural community is a complex matter and characterised by ambiguity. Some individuals agree with all the social practises of the cultural community, others are more selective in their approach, and some do not consider themselves to belong to a specific community at all. In the latter situation individuals and groups may consider themselves to be cultural hybrids or rootless nomads.
”Membership of a cultural community thus varies in kind and degree and is sometimes a subject of deep disagreement. Every community lives with this ambiguity and uncertainty (…) Since a culture’s system of beliefs and practices, the locus of its identity is constantly contested, subject to change, and does not form a coherent whole, its identity is never settled, static and free of ambiguity” (ibid:148).
If active citizenship is to be thought within this context of considerating cultural diversity, Parekh suggests that the moral status of national identities, which David Miller clings to, is given up, and that eurocentrism should be opposed. Parekh outlines his multicultural democratic education in this way,
”Basically, multicultural education is a critique of the Eurocentric and in that sense monocultural content and ethos of much of the prevailing system of education (Parekh, 2000: 225)
”Ideally, histories and experiences of minority communities should not be taught separately but integrated into the general history of the community. This ensures that their particular experiences and historical memories do not become ghettoised and obsessive and find their proper place in the collective memory and selfunderstanding of the society as a whole (…) It encourages a dialogue between cultures, equip students to converse in multiple cultural idioms, and avoids the cacophonous incomprehension of the Tower of Babel. It challenges the falsehood of Eurocentric history, brings out its complexity and plural narratives, and also fosters social cohesion by enabling students to accept, enjoy and cope with diversity” (ibid: 229-30)

The implication of Parekh´s thinking is that education for active citizenship is that what binds a multicultural society together is primarily of a political nature. Thus, he does not believe in rebuilding a common culture with a well-defined centre or authority, since no culture develops in this way. On the other hand politics is culturally imbedded, and the discussions between cultures are inscribed in power-relations within and between communities. Cultural communities do not only ensure communication and a secure sense of belonging to a community where individuals and groups can act freely and spontaneously. Membership of a community is also the way in which the social lives of individuals and groups are controlled and disciplined. Cultural communities do not develop and flourish independently of political and economical institutions, but shape them, and are shaped by them because

“the politics of culture is integrally tied up with the politics of power because culture is in itself instutionalized power and deeply imbricated with other systems of power (ibid: 343).

So, if Parekh´s points of view should constitute the frame for citizenship education in a multicultural society, according to a advisory model of democracy, it should be practised without privileging a specific community or identity in advance. This does not imply a free choice for all. All societies, local, national, regional or trans-national, are not multicultural in the same way or to the same extent. The cultural diversity of societies has developed under different historical conditions and according to different social and political dynamics, and all societies assert limited moral and political resources from where the challenges of cultural diversity can be met.

So, as a starting point for education for active citizenship as a politics of identity and feeling of belonging, the following decentrered deliberative model might be appropriate.











ctive citizenship as a decentred and advisory multicultural model


Above I have tried to explore that citizenship is an essentially contested concept. Its meaning and uses are constructed within specific historical, political and socio-cultural contexts. In the late 1980s and during the 1990s the concept of citizenship was revived in the social sciences and in the educational sphere as a normative concept for clarifying what ensures and what challenges the coherence of modern societies? It has become clear that formal, legal rights and duties are not sufficient in that respect. If the concept of active citizenship is on the agenda, the individual and collective identities of community members have to be created and reproduced. However, I have indicated that two inter-connected social processes, expanding processes of globalisation and cultural diversity are questioned: Which communities are, or should be the central loci for citizenship and community membership and the feeling of belonging now and in the future? Towards which communities should active citizenship be directed? Which communities are adequate if the challenges derived from globalisation and cultural diversity are to be met?

So far, there has been a close link between citizenship rights, duties on the one hand, and politics of the feeling of belonging to a nation on the other. Most people have been brought up to think that this link was “natural” and unavoidable. However, globalisation and cultural diversity are questioning whether the previous Westphalian world Order of demarcated and connected nation-states is disintegrating? Communities, institutions and networks below and above the nation-state are in the process of being constructed, does this question the former political and cultural supremacy and hegemony of national communities? Thus, the meaning and consequence of citizenship membership and community loyalty are being re-negotiated and have been the subject for struggle. In what political and cultural spaces is citizenship going to be located? Who are the “strangers” that can constitute the criteria for the practice of inclusion and exclusion?
Tentatively I have sketched out three possible ways of considering education for active citizenship in the future in the perspective of this historical moment. All three of them are open to criticism. But my hope is that they will foster further discussion on how to consider the concept of education for active citizenship on local, national, regional and trans-national and European levels in the future. If people, engaged and working in the educational area, do not seek to influence the contents of this discussion, and seek to influence and decide “the politics of belonging”, the foundations is made for others to take over and make the decisions.


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