Fostering duty without states

Citizenship and Democracy in a Global Era. First edition - Culture and Citizenship. First edition - Citizenship in a Global Age
November 30, 2001

The picture of the contemporary nation-state as squeezed between the pressures of globalisation on the one hand and those of sub-national movements on the other is by now a familiar one. The question of how such pressures bear on citizenship is natural and salient. Can citizenship, which has traditionally been bound up with the nation-state and which crucially defines individuals' political and cultural identity as well as their rights and obligations, still play a role in the post-national age? If so, whom should it include, and on what basis?

The analysis of citizenship takes centre stage in three recent books that will be of interest to sociology students and scholars of citizenship working within a sociological perspective. These books differ in their specific aims, but are unanimous about the need to rethink citizenship and move beyond T. H. Marshall's theory with its emphasis on social rights and on the nation-state as the primary reference point for citizenship. They help to fill gaps in the analysis of citizenship by attempting to develop a systematic sociological account of citizenship and by bringing the study of democracy and cultural studies to bear on its analysis.

Gerard Delanty's book is the only one of the three that has a unifying normative concern, that of developing a defensible conception of cosmopolitan citizenship. Central to Delanty's undertaking is the conviction that as the relation between citizenship and the nation-state becomes weaker, that between citizenship and democracy ought to be emphasised, so as to foster a form of citizenship that can withstand the threat of destructive anti-statist nationalisms. By examining existing theories of citizenship and debates on cosmopolitanism, Delanty clarifies how a plausible form of cosmopolitanism can be sustained by globalisation, understood as a "process of deterritorialisation". This "civic cosmopolitanism" does not do without the nation-state altogether, and does not require the existence of a cosmopolitan civil society, but only of a cosmopolitan public sphere.

While Delanty's book offers a helpful overview of contemporary debates on citizenship and cosmopolitanism, his proposal calls for further elaboration. In particular, we need to know what his civic cosmopolitanism implies by way of social, political and economic change and institutions. He mentions the European Union as an experiment that illustrates the sort of multi-tiered post-national governance that his civic cosmopolitanism would support. However, perplexities remain as to whether this experiment could be extended on a larger scale, or whether the EU is a new fortress that is premised on the exclusion of non-member states. If this were the case, the chances of civic cosmopolitanism's success in retaining a space for nation-states within a cosmopolitan framework are threatened. While Delanty's limited cosmopolitanism can meet some of the objections moved against other more demanding cosmopolitan conceptions, it remains to be seen whether the reconciliation between "polis" and "cosmos" that it seeks can be sustained.

The focus of the contributions in Andrew Vandenberg's volume is on citizenship and democracy as either under threat and partly eroded by developments such as economic liberalisation and the rise of racism, or as institutions that have not lived up to the ideals of inclusiveness and respect of diversity that are associated with them. The contributions in this volume present a range of perspectives on the analysis of citizenship and democracy. The national case studies shed light on how "citizenship" serves as a key concept for understanding economic, cultural and social developments in different nations.

One is, however, left somewhat unconvinced by some of the theoretical contributions to this volume. What exactly follows, for instance, from Vandenberg's suggestion that "democracy" and "citizenship" are in essence contested concepts, and that "it is most important to insist on their contestability no matter what"? Although disputes surrounding these concepts are value-laden and unlikely to be resolved once and for all, we are surely justified in seeking to elaborate and defend given conceptions of democracy and citizenship as more defensible insofar as they embody, and are supportive of, a host of other values that we deem important. Similarly, it is unclear what we are to make of Ann Coleman's and Winton Higgins's sweeping attack on Locke and the entire tradition of liberal theory - a tradition that, as they themselves remark towards the end of their article, now offers us the tools for developing an attractive conception of democratic citizenship.

The articles in Nick Stevenson's collection are concerned primarily with the relationship between culture and citizenship. Globalisation is here mostly in the background as a factor that prompts the investigation of this relation, with a few exceptions (Maurice Roche's essay deals specifically with global culture, and Brian Turner's with the cultural preconditions for a form of global citizenship). The authors agree on the need to "reinvent" citizenship (as Anthony Elliott suggests) and to develop a conception of cultural citizenship that is sufficiently expansive to include traditionally marginalised groups as well as growing cultural minorities. The emphasis on cultural preconditions for citizenship is well taken. Culture is important for individuals to develop a sense of connectedness and belonging to the community of which they are members, and the protection of cultural options is must for individuals' autonomy and self-respect.

Recognising the significance of culture for citizenship should not lead us to overlook, however, that some of the most pressing problems facing today's societies cannot be solved solely by dealing with questions of culture and by identity politics. Social rights remain a pressing concern, although now in a different framework from the one conceived by Marshall. This is a point that is largely, and regrettably, neglected by these books.

Serena Olsaretti is a fellow of St John's College, Cambridge.

Citizenship and Democracy in a Global Era. First edition

Editor - Andrew Vandenberg
ISBN - 0 333 74846 8 and 74847 6
Publisher - Palgrave
Price - £47.50 and £16.99
Pages - 312

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments