What is a Citizen?

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A citizen is a person who has the rights and responsibilities of a member of a nation. Citizenship is a legal status granted by a state that entitles a person to vote, participate in government and other civic activities, and claim certain benefits such as welfare payments or employment assistance. Citizenship also provides the opportunity to enjoy a shared cultural heritage and national identity. Citizenship is a central concept in political science and is often linked to the idea of social cohesion, which has been an important driver of changes to citizenship policy in Europe.

The definition of citizenship varies from country to country. In general, it is considered to imply loyalty to a nation. This may be expressed by a commitment to defend the nation, pay taxes, obey laws and serve the country in civil roles such as policing, volunteering, caring for the elderly or sick, serving in the military or providing disaster relief. Citizenship can be a form of recognition by a nation that an individual has contributed to its success and stability.

In recent years, many governments have been redefining the meaning of citizenship, with emphasis on active participation and community engagement. In the UK, for example, there has been a shift away from the legal concept of citizenship towards ideas of ‘belonging’, ‘values’ and’shared cultural heritage’. This has been driven in part by the growing polarisation of society and by the need to support cohesion and integration within the nation.

However, it is not always clear how these ideas relate to the legal status of citizenship, which can still be thought of as a mark of belonging and recognition by the state. This has led to controversy over the extent to which citizenship is a political status that is subject to the whims of voters or an intrinsic good of a nation.

One of the biggest challenges is determining how to measure a person’s ‘good citizenship’. There is a broad range of opinions on the question, and the answers are frequently highly subjective. For example, a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2013 asked people to rank 11 “good citizenship traits,” such as voting, paying taxes, helping others with compassion, displaying the flag and following politics closely. Voting ranked first, with 74% of respondents saying it was very important. Other top traits included volunteering, taking steps to reduce global climate change and respecting private property.

The survey also included a personality assessment, using well-known Big Five traits (extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotionality) as well as the new trait of honesty-humility. A different set of questions was used by a team at the University of Toronto in a 2015 study of the personality characteristics of Canadians who view themselves as good citizens. They found that a person who was self-congratulatory or proud was significantly less likely to be a good citizen than someone who acted in an honest and humble manner. Moreover, they found that narcissism was correlated with lower levels of civic participation and involvement in community affairs.