Wednesday, December 07, 2005

From Social to Economic Citizenship

Citizenship is a difficult and complex subject that is often viewed abstractly and a-historically. For example, some people only view citizenship in its national context, which is a changing reality for today’s world, as Pamela over at Cosmos points out. Other people view rights suggested within the concept of citizenship as being a forgone conclusion that are extended to everyone in the population. Yet rights in citizenship are not blanketed nor are they equal. Here in the United States, for example, evolving concepts regarding citizenship has faced continual challenges. US born women, for example, were considered citizens but they were not extended the same rights as other citizens such as the right to vote or own property out-right, outside of her husband. African Americans faced the same issues and so did, at one time, propertyless white men, Irish as well as other naturalized people from foreign nations. Citizenship, although marketed as “equal” was not equally shared. As it is impossible even in this long post to focus on all the complexities involved in the concept of citizenship, I will narrow my focus to the evolving concept of citizenship occurring today as a result of economic policies. Here, citizenship is slowing being transformed from a social to an economic framework of rights. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the . . .” Growing up, citizenship was acutely entangled with the Pledge of Allegiance, stated each morning (except for weekends) in school. In grade school, I placed my right hand over my heart and spoke with my fellow students. The same goes for junior high—by then the action was so automatic that the words and actions were performed without thought—I could have been a robot with lights and beeps. High school, however, when I finally studied politics and American history, I rejected my role as a “good allegiance speaker.” Without really understanding what I was protesting, it is clear, many years later, that I was protesting the narrow use of citizenship used in this country both historically and currently. There are supreme benefits to those in power, indeed for those who hold the majority opinion in any community (in power or not), to exercise a narrow lens of citizenship, while at the same time offer the illusion of citizenship, equally, to all. As the sociologist T.H. Marshall pointed out out, “. . . citizenship has itself become, in certain respects, the architect of legitimate social inequality” (248-49). In the west, and we must specify the “west” as it is incorrect to simply assume that citizenship is viewed through the same narrow lens that it exists in western thought, citizenship shares a tight weave with capitalism and labor issues. Evelyn Glenn in Unequal Freedoms links labor to citizenship and traces how the concept of citizenship was reformed with corresponding issues of labor--who has a right to work—citizenship being reformed to excluded propertyless white males, African Americans, women and other people of color. Furthermore, arguments for each of these groups, especially those of white males, and later women, worked to define their rights to citizenship in opposition to other excluded peoples. Likewise, in “Manufacturing Militance” Gay Seidman examines the workings of citizenship, labor and capitalism in Brazil and South Africa where each state’s narrow view of citizenship worked to exclude the labor force and keep them on the physical and ideological “peripheral” of society (209-215). Limiting the concept of citizenship, working to separate a people, undermines attempts for full inclusion. This is why writers such as Yuval-David ("The 'Multi-layered' Citizen") and Saskia Sassen ("On Economic Citizenship") called for a “multi-layered” view of citizenship and not just a view where citizenship is rooted in nationality (David 120). Both authors, but especially Sassen, calls our attention to globalization, and privatization, and its consequences for citizenship when national boundaries are becoming invisible in the internal workings of economic free flow of time and space (35). There is also the issue, while examining Marshall’s distinction between civic, political and social citizenship (249), of rights being defined either as public or private. Especially troublesome are the new problems that arise with privatization of goods, lands and services all over the world. Here, the idea of the “commons” and “common citizen rights” are eroded and challenged. Whereas, at one time, part of citizen rights in many countries included services such as healthcare, retirement, access to water, land and other commons, today the process of privatizing these services means that “rights” to commons are now based in an economic rather than a social “citizen rights” framework. What is being experienced by many “underdeveloped” countries and by developed countries as well is corporate rights over citizenship rights. For example, in Bolivia, there was an effort to privatize Cochabamba’s water system and the corporation that bought the city’s water system charged citizens for rainwater that was collected on rooftops (McMichael 12). Water, normally considered a common right for citizens, became twice as expensive as food. Luckily, the citizens were able to fight this occurrence and forced the water system back into “public hands.” However, this is becoming increasing difficult for nations that agree (for ‘development purposes’) to monetary loans offered by the World Bank as well as efforts put forth by WTO (the World Trade Organization) and GATS (the General Agreement on Trade in Services) which has been described as “the worlds first international investment agreement” by the WTO (12). Citizenship is further eroded into an economic framework for countries who accept “development” loans as a result of WTO’s “intellectual property rights” known as the “Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights" (TRIP): “It is premised on the elimination, or incorporation, of the commons” (ibid.) But this turn to privatization is not limited to so-called underdeveloped countries as here in the U.S. there is a push by the Bush administration to privatize the social commons as well, changing social citizen rights to economic rights enjoyed by some citizens—that is, those who can afford the right. The problem is, once framed as “private,” issues become untouchable, a “hands off” mentality, which suggests that whatever the majority believes in goes, and we will close our eyes to the human consequences. In today’s growing global context where there is increasing and constant movement of peoples across borders as well as issues with illegal migration, citizenship is again being redefined. As a result we see new problems and old problems arising. These problems are made worse by the new economic framework but also by a counter-reaction of nations trying to hold onto their identity as globalization works to ‘universalize’ ideals and cultures. This push back reaction tends to excite nationalistic and identity politics that, in turn, creates a 'xenophobia' as Princess Wild Cow pointed out earlier. Furthermore, there are less drastic results, such as the effects Coyote’s sister (see comments prior post below) has experienced because of immigrating from Ireland to Canada—loosing touch with her roots—again citizenship redefined. Finally, as Reverend Gisher at Less People Less Idiots suggested, we need to look at what responsibilities are involved with citizenship. However, as these responsibilities are slowly becoming entwined with economic privilege, we need to first, decide what citizenship should be ideally; and second, to see how this redefinition, along with the realities rather than the ideals of citizenship, shape those responsibilities. How we go about this redefinition is riddled with questions. First, does citizenship, today, need still be defined as a nation-state problem or, reflecting on new realities, a global issue? If redefined as a global or cross-nation concept, how do we account for social differences and identity? How can identity be retained while universalizing citizenship or, I ask, does identity need to be really standardized in order for citizenship definitions to be widened? Finally, as citizenship has often been seen as the realm of public commons and rights, where do we draw the line between the private and the public with concern to citizenship rights? Rebecca You can find information on the articles and books used below or email me. If I have a copy of the article on hand, I will happily send you a copy to read. T.H. Marshall. “Citizenship and Social Class.” In Marshall Citizenship and Social Class and Other Essays (1950). Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. Unequal Freedoms: how race and gender shaped American citizenship and labor (2002). Seidman, Gay. “Community Struggles and the redefinition of Citizenship.” In Seidman’s Manufacturing Militance: Workers’ Movements in Brazil and South Africa, 1970-1985. (1994). Yuval-David, Nira. “The ‘Multi-layered Citizen’: Citizenship in the Age of ‘Globalization.’” From the International Feminist Journal of Politics, 1:1 (1999). Sassen, Saskia. “On Economic Citizenship.” In Sassen, Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of globalization (1996). McMichael, Philip. “Globalization: Trend or Project?” in Global Political Economy, Contemporary Theories, ed, Ronen Palan (2000). Also an important read for the so-called Pax American Project: “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” from The Project for a New American Century at: Http

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