The Cartography of Citizenship


Everyone in today’s life is influenced by citizenship, which can be defined as equitable membership in a particular country from which enforceable rights, duties, responsibilities, opportunities and resources flows in a systematic manner. The concept of citizenship affects humans majorly by influencing the way we behave, guiding how we should interact with each other, and deciding what we can expect from the state and other institutions; it impacts our public and private interests. 

It also contains a component that is forward looking, inspirational, philosophical and ethical which gives ideas about what is necessary and even acceptable for socio-political relations. Citizenship, established between the actual and the conceptual, may also be both a tool for preserving the status quo and an invitation to social and political reform.

Why Citizenship?

Given the prominence of citizenship in public domain and academic literature, it is easy to think that we know almost everything about it. However, when we turn our attention to contemporary challenges, such as pressures for regional autonomy, global economic process, global inequalities, climate change, increased human mobility and the claims made by resident continuing discrimination and international terrorism, we gradually discover not only that we know less than we thought, but we are also confronted with citizenship’s limitations. With twentieth-century capital and nineteenth-century structures, it is not straightforward to reconcile twenty-first – century problems and concerns. The nation-state may be under pressure that is the pace of social and economic change, migratory movements, demands for regional autonomy, claims for full citizenship from marginalized citizens and non-citizen residents, the internalization of the economy and accelerated capital mobility, the development of supranational law and institutions, but the nationality concept of citizenship continues to be in the dominant position. 

Having a historical pedigree of approximately 200 years, national citizenship reflects the relationship between right-bearing individuals and the territorial state, which has been conceived of as the political embodiment of a nation. And although one should always be sensitive to constraints and political obstacles, we also should keep in mind that citizenship is, perhaps, the only institution that has the capacity to turn strangers into fellows and residents into associates in an ongoing quest for just and democratic institutions and for improved symbiosis. But now that the scope of this book has been sketched out and the importance of citizenship highlighted, readers might wonder why we should address citizenship now. 

Development of Citizenship

Citizenship had a multicultural past, and its impact on politics and culture has been substantial and comprehensive. Policy-makers and academics focused on the nature of citizenship and a series of volumes describing its origins and contents were and as we know, globalization, the process of economic integration and the-internal division of political cultures have brought citizenship into question. This also contested the social environment of the nation-state from which contemporary citizenship arose, rendering the traditional definition of citizenship poorly suited to contemporary changes as a participation of an unidentifiable state community. Furthermore, if we assume that the citizens have a valid claim to engage, directly or indirectly, in the democratic decision-making process within a sovereign state and that democracy means higher levels of legitimacy than nationalism, then the nationality concept of citizenship creates exclusions that are difficult to defend from a normative point of view.

But does that mean the principle of citizenship is in danger of being redundant? And if it’s decided that citizenship in its present form cannot exist, are there different ways to think about it? There are two things we cannot continue to neglect when addressing these questions and focusing on the boundaries and possibilities of citizenship: tradition and understanding. One has to look more carefully at the history and present status of citizenship, before evaluating the hopes for the future.

Transition Theories and Future

Although the political struggle to make citizenship more meaningful continues in the form of policy battles over border regulation and migration policy, loyalty and patriotism, naturalization rules and dual citizenship, anti-discrimination legislation and social welfare reform, in the current state of affairs nationalism appears to be a right without a left. It is as if political options have run out. Opinion polls reveal that millions of people have lost hope in politics, are distrustful of politicians and cynical about the future. Clearly, this is a turning point as regards citizenship. And turning points do not merely provide good illustrations about unfolding social processes and the role of time in politics, they also prompt a critical reflection on what works and what needs to be fixed, a consideration of a different vision and the transition from one set of beliefs to another. Turning points are thus closely linked with transition theories.

 It is clearly evident that no transformation theory may forecast the future of the concept of citizenship with certainty. It is not easy to determine, if the process of making the racial borders of citizenship more apparent can take place and, more broadly, where we are going in terms of citizenship restructuring. But given the risks posed by the thickening of national identities and state authoritarianism, it is not only reasonable to ask what modifications and adjustments citizenship needs, but it is also vital that we defend the normative ideals of inclusive and democratic citizenship in the twenty-first century. We thus need to reignite a vision that points towards the future while taking stock of the past. We also need to debate openly alternative institutional designs that might improve democratic life by providing better connections among the whole parts of democracy and diversity, and supranational patterns of governance and democratic partnerships both within and beyond the state.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views and opinions of Legally Flawless or its members.

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