Although we live in a period of unprecedented globalization and mass migration, many contemporary western liberal democracies are asserting their sovereignty over who gets to become members of their polities with renewed ferocity. Citizenship matters more than ever.
In this book, Elizabeth F. Cohen and Cyril Ghosh provide a concise and comprehensive introduction to the concept of citizenship and evaluate the idea's continuing relevance in the 21st century. They examine multiple facets of the concept, including the classic and contemporary theories that inform the practice of citizenship, the historical development of citizenship as a practice, and citizenship as an instrument of administrative rationality as well as lived experience. They show how access to a range of rights and privileges that accrue from citizenship in countries of the global north is creating a global citizenship-based caste system.
This skillful critical appraisal of citizenship in the context of phenomena such as the global refugee crisis, South-North migration, and growing demands for minority rights will be essential reading for students and scholars of citizenship, migration studies and democratic theory.
Elizabeth F. Cohen is Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University
Cyril Ghosh is Associate Professor of Political Science at Wagner College, New York
What is Citizenship?
Citizenship is a central idea in the study of politics. The term also has powerful emotional appeal for many people. Acquiring and exercising the rights associated with citizenship are among the most universally held political aspirations. Indeed, for some it might be the ultimate purpose of political life. The term has also long been a building-block concept for scholars as well as for people seeking to exercise power. However, a great deal of contestation exists surrounding both the precise meaning of the term as well as its constitutive elements. Here, in chapter 1, we review and consider the most fundamental facets of citizenship and the contestations they have engendered. In this way, we survey some of the longest-running disagreements over how to define and understand citizenship.
A concept-clarification exercise such as this one aims to sort through different definitions and citizenship practices to identify the most significant areas of tension among scholars of the subject and to illuminate what those tensions can tell us about the concept. However, no such concept-clarification exercise can offer a final word on the subject it is discussing. This exercise cannot fully resolve contestation about what citizenship means, or stabilize the concept once and for all, or even forestall its evolution in inevitably unpredictable ways. However, insisting on clarity about the contestations that the term generates is vital for a few key reasons. Below we identify a few of the most critical:
- the exercise provides us with a precise set of ideas about the term's constitutive elements;
- it enumerates the different bases on which various definitions of citizenship are founded, and thus sheds light on what is distinct about different conceptions of political membership; and
- it reduces confusion surrounding the term by distinguishing its meaning from related terms like "subjecthood," and illustrates the term's proximity to, and yet discreteness from, the concept of nationality, social group, class, and membership.
In what follows, we begin with a note on why citizenship is an "essentially contested concept." Next, we offer a concept-clarification exercise that is sub-divided into several discrete parts. We first discuss the question of who defines citizenship. We then proceed to a discussion of the assignment of citizenship. Here, we engage with the question of how determinations are made about who gets to belong to a polity and who gets excluded from it. Then we address the question of citizenship's content. Finally, we conclude with a note about citizenship's discreteness from a set of closely related terms.
Essentially contested concepts
There are many theories that stipulate the specific elements of and phenomena associated with citizenship. But no single authoritative definition of citizenship does or can exist. Citizenship has been said to be: a status, a standing, an institution, an instrument of political categorization, a set of actions related to virtue, civicness, a form of identification, a process, an affect, and various other things. This varied list points us to the fact that citizenship is one of what W. B. Gallie has termed "essentially contested concepts."1 Many of the most studied concepts in the social sciences can be classified as "essentially contested" because there is no settled consensus on their specific meanings - their essence - and they do not lend themselves to any easy definitions. Yet, as John Gerring has suggested, "it is impossible to conduct work without using concepts. It is impossible even to conceptualize a topic . . . without putting a label on it."2 Examples of essentially contested concepts include terms like: nation, state, populism, and so on. In a paper delivered to the Aristotelian Society in March 1956, Gallie first laid out a basic understanding of essentially contested concepts:
Different uses of the term[s] "work of art" or "democracy" or "Christian doctrine" subserve different though of course not altogether unrelated functions for different schools or movements of artists and critics, for different political groups and parties, for different religious communities and sects. Now once this variety of functions is disclosed it might well be expected that the disputes in which the above-mentioned concepts figure would at once come to an end. But in fact this does not happen. Each party continues to maintain that the special functions which the term "work of art" or "democracy" or "Christian doctrine" fulfils on its behalf or on its interpretation, is the correct or proper or primary, or the only important, function which the term in question can plainly be said to fulfil. Moreover, each party continues to defend its case with what it claims to be convincing arguments, evidence and other forms of justification.3
The reasons for this kind of dissensus are manifold. Sometimes the contestation is over who gets to define a given concept. Sometimes what appears to be a contested concept is simply an umbrella term for a range of subsidiary concepts, which results in confusion about what the term itself represents. A classic example of such ambiguity is the term "equal opportunity." For some, the term represents the equality of starting points (say, everyone should have an equal chance at college admissions), while for others it represents at least a rough equality of outcomes (say, actual levels of college admissions should reflect the fact that everyone had an equal chance of getting into college). The same is true of a concept like the "American Dream." For some people, the American Dream is about upward mobility, while for others it is about social and racial justice.4
Sometimes, the use of modifiers helps to clear up confusion about a concept. Thus, for Steven Lukes, the simple use of the word "individualism" is not very helpful because it is not clear what the term means. Consequently, Lukes suggests the drawing of distinctions between different forms of individualism, such as the political, methodological, abstract, and ethical forms of individualism.5 Similarly, in the case of a concept like "ideology," Terry Eagleton finds at least six different bundles of meanings associated with the term.6 Others have argued that in certain cases we are dealing with "cluster concepts": concepts that admit of a range of meanings, each one of which is equally valid. In the case of a concept like "politics," say, Fred Frohock argues that we should avoid trying to come up with a definition of a term like "politics" because these concepts extend to a "range of events"7 which nonetheless share "family resemblances."8 Instead, Frohock argues that we should seek to find some core terms around which any ordinary use of the given concept clusters. Equally, in the case of terms like "citizenship," there are concerns about thresholds, in which scholars debate how much of any specific ingredient of citizenship (such as rights, virtues, actions, etc.) is required for any legitimate instantiation of the term. In the remainder of this chapter, we will specify the concept of citizenship and at the same time we delineate several different ways in which contestation about citizenship's definition might persist.
Specifying the concept of citizenship
One kind of conceptual confusion occurs because the term "citizenship" is sometimes stretched too wide. Using the term citizenship indiscriminately - for example, to refer to a disparate array of things such as activism, particular types of people, or abstract statuses - erodes the word's conceptual precision. A second common misunderstanding occurs when citizenship is conflated with related terms that have distinct meanings. For example, many types of associations, communities, and organizations have bounded memberships that include some people and exclude others. Yet we do not say that members of a unit such as a congregation or a family are citizens of those groups. The reason we do not say this is not simply because these things are not explicitly political units. We do this because we recognize, in addition to the fact that these units are not political, that they also do not function via the rule of law in the way that a polity does. Distinguishing citizenship from very closely related but distinct concepts like nationality, civicness, and membership helps minimize conceptual contestation over citizenship. Similarly, citizenship can refer to individuals whose political relationships with the state do not have much in common. So, for example, citizenship can be defined by the actions and entitlements of fully rights-bearing members of democratic polities or of passport-bearing "nationals" of authoritarian nation-states who do not enjoy a great slate of civil liberties, as well as children the world over who cannot vote.9 Most often, citizenship is conflated with the possession of legal nationality: a passport and legal claims to reside in, move freely about, and reenter a sovereign state.10
In other words, variations abound. But does that mean that we can never agree on what constitutes citizenship? We think not. However, we do recognize that the task of clarifying what the concept of citizenship...