What Does it Mean To Be A Citizen In A Global Society?

Asking a difficult question such as this often makes people uncomfortable because this question does imply a great deal of complexity. To increase democratic participation, citizens need to be more informed on how geopolitical realities shape life today and how citizens can participate in constructing what it means to be a citizen today.

See Article: "Education for Global Citizenship and Social Responsibility"

A Look at U.S. Citizenship

What does it mean to be an "American" citizen? Are basic citizenship rights experienced universally by all members of society? The right to vote? The right to run for public office? The right to pursue one's individual choices in life? Does this question take on an entirely new meaning when addressing this from the perspective of a Native American woman whose family has lived on a reservation for three generations?

Feliks Gross (1999), states that "Citizenship is an articulation of an inclusive political association and common culture that unites all inhabitants of diverse ethnicity, religion or race" (1999:13). Thus, "All members are therefore members of a political community--the state. The state is an association of citizens, all free and all have the same rights and carry respective duties." In a well- working democratic state, ethnic diversity is a source of strength, cultural wealth and creativity. The effectiveness and success of the civic state depends on the proper balance between the civil society and the state" (Gross 1999:128).

What is problematic about this assumption?

It is just this notion of "a common identity shared by all diverse ethnic or cultural groups," particularly the notion that "all are free and all have the same rights and carry respective duties" that remains problematic and is unseated within a race, sex, class analysis.

For example, in the book Beyond Equality and Difference; Citizenship, Feminist Politics and Female Subjectivity (1992), Susan James argues that, "Despite the giant emancipatory strides of the past hundred years, women are still denied full citizenship. And despite its egalitarian aspirations, democratic liberal theory still still nurtures a conception of politics which implicitly marginalizes and disadvantages women" (pp. 48).

Why Analyze Global Citizenship?

Learning to think beyond national borders is itself a critical thinking exercise. In a "global world" there is an assumption that borders are disappearing, that we are moving beyond the nation-state, and that we live in an interconnected world with crucial transnational dimensions. This interconnectedness is viewed differently by different interests. A "Global Democracy" has the potential to be used in very political ways and would invest some people with the power to control distribution of resources, and could be used to introduce a "global approach to the nature of governance and regulation." Who would be part of this governance structure? How would those within this structure convince the populous that their governance is inclusive and democratic?

"Multiculturalism" is one model which attempts to convince people that inclusivity means recognition of diversity. How well has "Multiculturalism" respected diversity within society becomes a critical question. Does multiculturalism reduce questions of equal power distribution to "tolerating others"? "Race," "class," "sexuality," and "gender" are sites of tension between the politics of recognition and the politics of redistributions.

Criticial thinking in a "global democracy" must include ways to raise questions and assess these claims to distinguish between rhetoric and reality. This tutorial invites participation in this dialogue and assumes that "citizen agency" can influence change. However, skill in analyzing debates, dialogues and media messages is crucial for participants in this developing dialogue. This tutorial frames discussion on "narratives" as described by Edward Said, and on "representation wars" as described by Armand Matelart (1983).

In his lecture (found in the University Library Interactive Media Center)Unresolved Geographies: Embattled Landscapes (1999), Edward Said, encourages us to think critically on how divisions are created by using difference and conflict in society and how these divisions are used to prevent an inclusive democracy from unfolding.

National Narratives and Conflict

 Why do regional and global conflicts occur, what part we can play to resolve them, what relationships must change in order to resolve them?

Said states that "national narratives are designed to establish authority and control over concrete spaces and very specific geographies (Said, 1999)." To Said, these narratives convey conflicts as "immemorial hatreds" between communities with "pre-existing disharmony." Therefore, conflicts are often summarized as being purely indigenous to "feuding sects" when explanations of global inequalities and structures which rely upon them may also be at play in maintaining theses conflicts.

Said asks, "How does one deal with issues of contested territory, ethno-national identity, hostile groups at a time when it seems clear that schemes of separation and partition and wishful ideas of creating ethnic or religious homogeneity have failed miserably?"

What skills are needed to learn to address these conflicts?

Developing Communication Skills

Susan Bickford, states in her book, Listening, Conflict and Citizenship: The Dissonance of Democracy (1996), that "Political listening is not primarily a caring or amicable process... We cannot suppose that political actors are sympathetic toward one another in a conflictual context, yet it is precisely the presence of conflict and differences that makes communicative interaction necessary. This communicative action speaking and listening together does not do away with the conflicts that arise from uncertainty, inequality and identity. Rather, it enables political actors to decide democratically how to act in the face of conflict."

How Can We Create a Notion of Global Citizenship that takes into account Race, Gender, Class Analysis?

Choose one of the following exercises:
Click on the email envelope image to send your essays to the archive.

1. In her book Transforming Critical Thinking: Thinking Constructively (2000, Teachers College Press, New York, NY), Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon's notion of the "Quilting Bee" replaces the "melting pot" as a  metaphor for community. How can this assist in developing an inclusive vision of citizen agency? Choose an organization or social movement and address how this way of seeing was or was not articulated in practice.

2. However, it is possible that "differences" that represent characteristics of cultures, groups and individuals may become more pronounced. How can we respect differences and use scholarship on difference to construct inclusive visions of democracy?

3. Is the very notion of citizenship fraught with inconsistencies and contradictions, and perhaps itself a contested identity?

4. Click here to see a listing of several aspects of citizenship and answer one of the questions.

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