Different Perspectives on Citizenship

Exploring the Different Perspectives on Citizenship

Various changes in the contemporary society deeply contribute to the revival of the concept of citizenship. The term and notion of citizenship raise some concerns in the field of social sciences. The term citizenship encompasses a wide range of sociological and political attributes and characteristics.

The broad scope of the study of citizenship is usually defined under the three main criteria: (1) legal definition which defines the rights and duties of citizens as a member of a nation-state; (2) philosophical definition which is concerned with the norms and theories of citizenship that could best deliver a just society; and (3) socio-political definition which emphasizes citizenship as a status of one's membership in society that involves set of values and practices (Dwyer, 2004).

As a legal term, citizenship is often used interchangeably with nationality. This is the description of the state where an individual was born. As a legal citizen, one has to abide by the rules and policies set by the nation-state. On the other hand, the philosophical definition of citizenship tells of the key role of the state in providing the citizens' needs and how individual members of the society should relate with each another. These attributes mainly lie on normative questions. Finally, socio-political definition of citizenship should be understood as power relationship that comprise the macro structure of a society and the political, social, and economic changes that affect the society (Dwyer, 2004).

The definition of citizenship as a personal status presumes the existence of individual rights and obligations that is determined by an invisible social contract adhering to the beliefs and traditions of the society (Levy & Weiss, 2002). Another significant component of citizenship is it encompasses various forms of diversity including sexuality and gender-related issues. Citizenship plays an important function in gender-related issues, including how society perceives women. It recognizes the interchangeable role played by men and women in the contemporary society (Edwards & Glover, 2001).

Citizenship is the adherence to deviation from mainstream values, standards, practices, and beliefs. The idea disregards conforming to the tradition, customs, and practices, and creates individuality. It can be perceived as the way different countries have developed a variety of practices exclusive in their country and how these distinguish their people. This view closely touches on the issue of social order since traditional ways and practices are questioned in a fundamental way.

Citizenship as an issue developed and became prevalent due to the challenges brought about by the global and postmodern developments in the organization of modern societies. These global developments result in conflict with the traditional boundaries of the society. The idea of globalization raises problems on the relationship of individual members of society and to its macro-societal structures. Another concern that leads to reviving the concept of citizenship is the relationship between human and nature (Turner, 1993).

Rapid developments in the fields of medicine have raised ethical concerns regarding the ownership of the body. Changes in perception of gender along with the advances in medicine have increased the problem of relationship between human body and social membership (Turner, 1993).

The issue of citizenship due to the aforementioned changes in our society has created concerns to the members of society. The modern query on citizenship involves two structured issues. These are the nature of social membership in highly differentiated societies and the problem in efficient allocation of scarce economic and cultural resources (Turner, 1993).

Determining the level of adherence to citizenship is vital to a nation-state. This allows for the assessment whether the level of adherence agrees with the attributes provided by the different definitions of citizenship. High adherence pertains to someone who has the same value, belief, and practices while low adherence pertains to someone who does not have the same value, belief, and practices. Some of the criteria used in measuring citizenship are sexual orientation, race, education, and wealth. These criteria determine the level of citizenship of an individual. For instance, a person who is gender-sensitive and educated exercises a high level of citizenship for he or she is particular and participates in issues concerning the nation.

The strongest determinants of full citizenship are being younger, wanting to be an agent or perpetrator of social change, and participation in political issues. Still, those who are younger also have the capability to maintain a high level of citizenship involvement. Moreover, activism influences the level of citizenship of an individual. This is reflected in an individual's life choices, values, lifestyles, and organizational involvements. Factors that weaken the level of citizenship are the advantages that can be derived from advanced education and high level of profession. Having a lower income also diminishes level of citizenship (Fendrich, 1993).

In the United States, although African-American and white activists generally project and exercise an equally high level of citizenship, there will always be a significant disparity on their level of citizenship. Some news articles feature African-American people as high level citizens due to a variety of factors. One of these factors is education. Education is one of the determinants of the level of citizenship. There is an existing dissimilarity in education experiences and the completed education of African Americans and white Americans (Fendrich, 1993). African Americans place high value on education due to the scarce opportunity given to many of them.

Another factor is the citizen's political involvement in organizations (Fendrich, 1993). Brought about by the discrimination and racism suffered by their predecessors, African Americans struggled to attain their equal status with the whites. African-American people are considered as ambitious adults who seek parity in treatment in the nation-state. Today, an African American is trying to win the nomination for being the candidate for presidency of the Democratic Party.

Although both races are active agents of social change, African-American people place higher value on the extrinsic reward of money, prestige, and security derived from battling for their rights (Fendrich, 1993). They are concerned about the benefits derived from their political involvements. Nowadays, they are given the right to participate in the political arena as representatives of a state just like the whites.

On the other hand, some news articles depict African-American people as low class citizens. This could be attributed to the never-ending practice of discrimination. Also, the people in the media are mostly white people. Thus, in comunicating to the public that are mostly comprised of their kind, the media create biases in the manner they label other races. The notion that African-American people have low level of citizenship could also be related to the lower occupational status and income that is statistically significant in measuring level of citizenship.

The scope of the concept of citizenship is definitely broad and encompasses perspectives from the different fields of social sciences. Citizenship can be defined using different views on its various aspects. The revival of the issue concerning the notion of citizenship was brought about by several factors that create changes in the structures of society. As a result, there exists a disparity on how the level of citizenship of an individual is determined based from the various determinants - sexual orientation, education, race, and wealth.


Fendrich, J. M. (1993). Ideal citizens: The legacy of the civil rights movement. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Edwards, R., & Glover, J. (2001). Risk and citizenship: Key issues in welfare. London: Routledge.

Levy, D., & Weiss, Y. (2002). Challenging ethnic citizenship: German and Israeli perspectives on immigration. United States: Berghahn Books.

Turner, B. S. (1993). Citizenship and social theory. Bonhill St., London: Sage Publishing Ltd.

Dwyer, P. (2004). Understanding social citizenship: Themes and perspectives for policy and practice. Bristol, UK: The Policy Press and Social Policy Association.

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