Citizenship Essay

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Citizenship refers to membership in a political community organized as a territorial or national state. The nature and content of citizenship varies with the form of state. Citizenship in the classic Greek polis, for instance, provided membership to a political elite, whereas modern liberal democratic citizenship provides opportunity to vote in a political election cycle. Sociological theories, however, recognize that citizenship has more than a mere political dimension.

Types of citizenship can be characterized in terms of two distinct axes or dimensions, one being access to citizenship status and the other being the quality of the rights and duties that attach to citizenship. Rules of access to citizenship separate citizens from non-citizens. Two alternative legal possibilities include jus sanguinis or citizenship by descent and jus soli or citizenship by birthplace. Which of these operates can have large consequences for persons who have moved across national boundaries either through the internationalization of economic activity and labor markets or the transformation of political units, both of which have relocated significant numbers of people transnationally over the last century.

Under conditions of jus sanguinis it is not sufficient to be born in a country to have access to its citizenship. To be a German or a Japanese citizen, for instance, it is not sufficient to be born in Germany or Japan. In these cases, citizenship is based on descent or appropriate ethnic-cultural qualities, and birth in its territory has no bearing on access to citizenship, even for second- and third-generation settlers. The range of possibilities under jus soli arrangements, on the other hand, is broader. American and Australian citizenship, for instance, can be acquired by virtue of being born in those countries. French citizenship, on the other hand, is attributed to a person born in France if at least one parent was also born in France (or a French colony or territory prior to independence). The legal requirements of acquisition of citizenship by naturalization are also quite variable between nation-states.

The second axis of citizenship, which is that of quality, refers to what is provided by formal membership of a political community once it is attained. The quality of citizenship comprises the rights and duties that are available to persons as citizens. The rights and duties of citizenship include not only those of political participation but also those that relate to legal and social capacities. Marshall (1950), for instance, distinguishes civil, political, and social citizenship.

The civil component of citizenship, according to Marshall, consists of those rights and duties that derive from legal institutions and especially courts of law. Civil rights include equal treatment before the law, rights of contract and property, and freedom from constraint by the state. Political rights are typically understood as rights of participation in the nation s political processes and especially the right to vote and stand for election. The social rights of citizenship are described by Marshall as rights to a basic level of material well-being through state provision independently of a person s market capacities. Accounts of the quality of citizenship have also been supplemented by reflection on recent social movements, which leads to consideration of rights associated with gender, ethnic, and green citizenship.

Citizenship is generally treated in terms of the rights that are available to citizens and denied to non-citizens, but there are also duties of citizenship, and the relationship between rights and duties in citizenship has drawn interest from sociological writers. Citizenship duties or obligations arguably have a role in the maintenance of social order and integration, but for most writers this aspect of citizenship remains secondary to the importance of citizenship in providing otherwise unobtainable capacities to persons through the rights of citizenship.

One development that has affected issues of citizenship is the changing composition of national communities, through migration, from culturally homogeneous populations to mosaics of national, ethnic, religious, and racial diversity. These changes pose problems of integration and social segmentation. Today, the question of access to rights by outsiders is associated with the broader questions of the increasing internationalization of national economies and displacement of persons through war and national decomposition and the consequent movement of large numbers of people across national boundaries. This raises questions concerning the impact of international organizations on national citizenship rights. Indeed, in Western Europe today there are in effect different levels of citizenship participation insofar as non-national residents may have civil and social rights and even certain political rights by virtue of the laws of their host countries that operate in terms of EU-sponsored human rights protocols and other transnational directives.


  1. Barbalet, J. M. (1989) Citizenship: Rights, Struggle and Class   University  of Minnesota Press,
  2. Minneapolis, MN. Janoski,    (1998)   Citizenship   and   Civil Society: A Framework of Rights and Obligations in Liberal, Traditional and Social Democratic Regimes. Cambridge University Press, New York.
  3. Marshall, T. H. (1950) Citizenship and Social Class. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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