The Concept of Citizenship

posted in: News | 0


Citizenship is a legal status granted to a person by a state who, in turn, shares in the responsibilities and rights of the political community of the nation to which they belong. It is often a key concept in the study of democratic theory and practice, of human rights and of globalisation and diversity. The notion of citizenship is often contested, however, and there are many different ideas about its nature.

The main theoretical models of citizenship relate to its role as the foundation and framework for political action. The liberal’republican’ model understands the citizen as a legal person whose freedoms are guaranteed by law. The universalist model, in contrast, argues that the existence of laws and their application to certain groups of people is a prerequisite for the moral and cultural pluralism of contemporary societies. A third view, based on Aristotle’s civitas model, considers citizens as political agents who share power with their representatives.

All these theories share the assumption that the law serves the public interest by establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties. This understanding is sometimes called the ‘rule of law’ and it is an important part of the ethos of contemporary democracies. However, a number of problems have arisen in the context of a growing skepticism about the link between law and social cohesion.

These challenges have led to a reappraisal of the concept and an emphasis on new forms of civic engagement. The recent controversy over citizenship tests and other procedures to promote the sense of belonging in Britain reflects this change in thinking. Such policies are intended to ensure that the benefits of citizenship and the ideals of cohesion and integration are realised. However, their instrumentalisation as a form of control is counterproductive and has damaged the very idea of citizenship which they are meant to promote.

There are also new ideas about the meaning and significance of citizenship which are developing in the context of globalisation and diversity. These are reflected in developments in the fields of disability rights and animal rights, for example. These challenge the basic premise of traditional theories of citizenship, which assume that discourses of rationality are a necessary prerequisite for its exercise (Carens 2000).

A further trend is towards a global vision of citizenship. This involves the assumption that globalisation has made borders irrelevant and that there is a need to develop common standards of behaviour and values in order to facilitate inter-state cooperation. It is also argued that the global community must work together to combat environmental degradation and other issues.

In this sense, a ‘global citizen’ is someone who understands the interconnectedness of nations and embraces diversity. They take the time to learn about other cultures and traditions as they recognise that they are all in this together. They are cosmopolitan, travel widely, and prefer experiences over possessions. They care about the world around them and believe that they have a responsibility to do what they can to make it a better place.