Critiques of Citizenship

Bryan Turner in his article on Citizenship Studies explores the original theory of citizenship coined by T.H. Marshall and in summary defines citizenship as “a collection of rights and obligations which give individuals a formal legal identity.” In terms of this definition, he identifies rights as access to economic and cultural resources, and obligations as participation in a certain political community. In this view, citizenship is not, therefore, an identity that one either has or doesn’t have, i.e. the legal sense of qualifying for the right to choose your leaders, but relies on the spectrum of what a person contributes and receives from the state. These levels of citizenship can depend on cultural identity, economic and social status, gender, and so forth. Turner goes on to critique Marshall’s theory on the basis of its incomplete or incorrect description of rights and the concept of citizenship, the assumption of homogeneity in nation states, and its representation of women.

Incomplete description of key features of rights in 20th century

Marshall’s theory was published in 1997 and posited in short that social rights in particular mitigate class conflict, as they redistribute resources throughout society, and create a common form of solidarity such as a particular cultural identity. In response, Turner argued that Marshall’s notion of citizenship was incomplete. Economic citizenship and cultural difference, he states, are rights that Marshall ignores, but which influence the status of citizenship as they in turn affect social inequality.

Assumption of homogeneity in nation states

The assumption of homogeneity within nation states is another point in the theory that is critiqued by various scholars. As the theory concentrates on inequality between social classes, it ignores other forms of inequality that may arise out of ethnic and cultural difference, which as the previous point mentions, is something that is lacking from Marshall’s argument. As a result, his solution to inequality by the way of redistributing resources is insufficient. This ties in with McCargo’s argument that states that resources can also be informally allocated on the basis of these ethnic divisions. Ignoring linguistic, religious and cultural differentiation reveals a large gap in understanding how inequality operates and leads to a misinterpretation of the situation.

Women and the private Sphere

The relationship between women and citizenship outlined in the 1997 theory no longer matches up with modern thought. Marshall considers women to uphold the family and household whereas his theory focuses on men. As Turner mentions, the theory has been challenged by feminist political theory for its approach to women. This view is supported by Verónica Schild who argues that the public vs. private sphere reinforces the perception of women as second-class citizens or even excluded from citizenship completely. As they appear less distinctly within the field of paid, public sphere work, women are perceived in this way to be dependent on her male counterpart, a mindset that is being increasingly abandoned.

Evolutionary and cumulative rights

The assumption of evolutionary and cumulative rights, that is, social welfare rights that are at some point won and then subsequently not eroded by any following struggle, but rather progressing and evolving into further rights, is one that is also criticised. The idea that a citizen of a nation possesses automatically certain rights has been contested by other scholars, in particular Aihwa Ong, who explored the citizenship concern within different ethnic groups in America. Ong states, “A worker who is technically an American citizen may not enjoy basic rights because her work status and location rather than formal citizenship determine her conditions of existence. On the other hand, transnational entrepreneurs often enjoy rights and privileges regardless of their formal citizenship status.”

This brings into question oversimplification of Marshall’s theory, seeing as the rights of “citizens” in this case are determined in relation to what they can offer the nation. In Schild’s view, the expectation towards governments to “make” its citizens equal can lead to the promotion of “desirable behaviour”, the exclusion of the “underserving”, and strict criteria of eligibility. This clearly underlines how nation states are able to utilise this concept in order to decide who is or isn’t a citizen.

Active and passive citizenship

Marshall’s theory also ignores the distinction between active and passive citizenship, which has become a significant theme in the debate. Turner defines active citizenship as securing social rights in a clear public arena, whereas passive is allowing an elected leader power to rule without further consultation of its supporters. McCargo explored further this argument with the example of Malay Muslims in Thailand who, while appearing to have full citizenship on the surface, are not granted active political participation. On the other hand, the Chinese population of Thailand subsumed their native culture and identity to succumb to total “Thai-ness”.

These further developments on the subject of citizenship, seen through the scholarly critiques on the subject, show how the field has broadened and also been cultivated, allowing for a more thorough understanding of what citizenship is and what it entails. The concept is no longer limited to a set of inequalities between classes, but rather a whole range of variables such as ethnicity, gender, race, and rights.

J.P.

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