Citizenship is the legal status of a person belonging to a particular state or community. It usually carries with it civil, political, and social rights that are not normally afforded to non-citizens. However, citizenship is not always guaranteed and the rules for obtaining it vary from state to state.
Originally, citizenship was a privileged status that granted individuals the right to participate in the affairs of the state. It was also associated with civic virtue and a responsibility to contribute to the welfare of the state and its inhabitants. It was often associated with religious commitment and a sense of loyalty and shared cultural values, as well as with social relations of reciprocity and responsibility (Tacitus and Cicero).
The concept of citizenship has undergone many transformations during its history. It has been contested over the precise definition of each of its components (legal, political and identity) and the causal or conceptual relations between them.
First, a legal concept of citizenship evolved in response to the emergence of legal systems that regarded citizens as a class of ‘peoples’ who were protected by law and had a share in the development of the state. These systems included the Roman Empire, which was later incorporated into modern Western civilization and which profoundly transformed the meaning of citizenship.
Second, a political concept of citizenship developed in response to the rise of a ‘democratic’ society and its emphasis on active participation in political processes. This was in turn influenced by the writings of such figures as Aristotle, Tacitus and Cicero.
Third, a subjective sense of citizenship has emerged as a result of the development of social relations of reciprocity and responsibility and the emergence of shared cultural heritage. This has led to a variety of models that can be distinguished by identifying their specific characteristics or perspectives on citizenship.
For example, some’republican’ positions highlight the relation between citizenship and political participation such as voting and engagement in civil society. Others emphasize the relationship between citizenship and a feeling of identity or a sense of belonging to ‘the nation’.
Fourth, a ‘liberal’ model of citizenship emphasizes the relation between citizenship and a feeling of identity or belonging to ‘the society’. This has developed through a number of distinct historical experiences such as the republican democracy of Athenian cities and Republican Rome, Italian city-states and workers’ councils.
Fifth, a ‘tribal’ model of citizenship emphasizes the relation between the core values and practices that characterise a society or group of peoples and the way they participate in political decision making and public life. These can be linked to an ethical-political basis and are highly dynamic depending on the culture and historical context.
The most important aspect of being a citizen is the ability to vote in elections and vote for those who represent you at the local, state, and national level. These elections are key in making important decisions that affect you, such as transportation initiatives, laws that will change your lifestyle, and other major changes that affect your daily life.