How Might We Define ‘Citizenship’ within the European context?

Published: 2019/12/09 Number of words: 3452


The primary meaning of the concept of citizenship is closely linked with nationality. But over time the meaning of citizenship has changed. Mobility of people around the world and the effects of the capitalist economy have significantly reshaped the concept of citizenship. The global capitalist economy creates global opportunities, which is why more people than ever are now moving from one country to another to settle down. This trend has helped to create a new category of community, which is why citizenship is viewed as a changing concept. Globalisation and the rise of capitalism have led to the rethinking of the person as the global citizen. The concept of the global citizen stands in the stead of the nation, both as a place and as a form of authority. There is more than one definition of citizenship, and it is not possible to discuss the concept of citizenship without looking at it from a global socio-economic perspective. This is why citizenship is not a straightforward issue. The purpose of the present essay is to analyse the definition of citizenship and its relationship with risk society in the European context.

Citizenship and European Integration

Citizenship can be defined differently in different perspectives. Primarily, citizenship means membership of a society that conveys certain rights to its citizen. But European forms of citizenship have a close relationship with the development of human rights. On looking into the past, it can be seen that human rights-based European citizenship emerged in contrast to totalitarian approaches, which view the state as more important than the individual. As Todorov (2003) argues, collectiveness was at the heart of the totalitarian approach while, on the other hand, democracy was the basis of humanistic thinking. Todorov (2003: 38) further states that democracy and the humanist thinking that underlies it are entirely in opposition to totalitarianism, in the sense that the former really do constitute a universalist creed. In totalitarian approaches, policies are always conducted in the name of the collectivity and for the benefit of all. But democratic politics is the art of compromise. Human rights-based citizenship emerged in Europe in response to this kind of totalitarian approach.

Benhabib (2002: 454) defines citizenship as membership in a bounded political community, which might be a nation state, a multinational state or a federation of states. But the most common definition of citizenship in modern times is associated with nationality. As Delanty (1995: 161) states:

‘[The] dominant understanding of citizenship in modern times has, in fact, been shaped by conceptions of nationality, which in turn have been linked to purely political notions of citizenship. The nation state has been the framework for the institutionalisation of citizenship. This is because the genesis of the notion of citizenship has been closely tied to the idea of freedom, which itself has been very much linked to the principle of nationality.’

One well-known theorist of citizenship so conceived is T. H. Marshall. Marshall divides citizenship into three parts: the civil, the political and the social. He differentiates these three types of citizenship, associating each type with a specific century: the civil with the eighteenth century, the political with the nineteenth, and the social with the twentieth (cited in Turner, 2001). According to Marshall, the nature of citizenship can influence the nature of the nation or state, which is why in the twentieth century the concept of the social welfare state emerged to dominate the political agenda, for it involves the idea that the role of the state is to serve society and to be the basis of the social welfare (Delanty, 1995: 160).

On the other hand, some view citizenship as a combination of ‘inclusionary’ and ‘exclusionary’ movements. According to Turner (1997), we should conceptualise citizenship as a process, rather than defining it within a static framework of rights and obligations (cited in Turner, 2001: 192). Inclusionary processes involve some reallocation of resources, while exclusionary processes order space to create a common imagined solidarity that excludes outsiders (Turner, 2001: 192). In the process of exclusion, identity becomes a prominent part of national solidarity. It may also be argued that the process of exclusion is the process of identity formation. According to Turner (2001), the Marshallian paradigm of social citizenship has been eroded because the social and economic conditions that supported the post-war British welfare consensus have been transformed by economic and technological changes. Turner views citizenship in terms of effective entitlement based on participation in work, war and reproduction, resulting in three types of social identity: worker-citizens, warrior-citizens and parent-citizens. This clearly indicates the changing nature of citizenship.

The concept of citizenship goes beyond national boundaries, and is also relevant to Europe. A new type of citizenship has emerged in Europe and in this approach citizenship is not viewed as compatible with nationality. As Delanty (1995: 161) argues, this narrow concept of citizenship as nationality is becoming increasingly irrelevant to Europe as the twenty-first century approaches. The liberal constitutional idea of citizenship has become an instrument by which Europe can intensify as an entity. But mass immigration has also become a threat to the concept of European citizenship, because it is intensifying the connection between national identity and citizenship. Due to mass immigration, interaction between immigrant and foreign society is creating tension and conflict. In this regard, post-national citizenship is an alternative to the restrictive notion of nationality. As Delanty further (1995: 162) argues,

‘The essence of post-national citizenship is that citizenship is determined neither by birth nor nationality but by residence. Unlike nationality, citizenship should not be embodied in the national culture of the state. Citizenship is international and transcends the particularist assumptions of culture and nationality.’

On the other hand, Turner argues that the traditional nature of citizenship is being eroded. This means that nowadays a new form of citizenship is in the process of emerging. Other concepts of citizenship have also evolved in the form of cosmopolitan or post-national citizenship.

Globalisation is another feature playing an important role in shaping the new forms of European citizenship. One of the main effects of globalisation is the decline in power of the nation state, for the latter can no longer control their own economies as they did before (Habermas, 2000: 52). On the other hand, globalisation has given people new opportunities, which supersede national boundaries (Appadurai, 1990). By entering the global arena, mass migration occurs around the world and this new migration is creating new forms of citizenship. In response to the loss of national control, Europe has tried to solve this problem by uniting into a single European identity (Habermas, 2000). Castells (2000) terms this integration the ‘network state’.

This kind of unification demands new identities, especially new forms of European identity, as people in Europe need to feel European. The media could create an audiovisual space to fundamentally transform European culture and forge a united Europe (Castells, 2000: 354). But the major problem is whether the people of Europe really feel like European citizens to the same extent as they feel like citizens of their nation. This is a big question for the unification of Europe. As Delanty (1995: 3) states,

‘Europe does not exist any more naturally than do nations. It is like most of our political vocabulary, constituted by history and, at the same time, constitutive of that very history. European identity did not exist prior to its definition and codification.’

There is another problem regarding the unification of Europe, namely, that people are distrustful of European institutions – what has come to be labelled ‘the democratic deficit’ (Castells, 2000: 358). But European identity is in the initial stages now. As Castells (2000: 365) argues, there is currently no European identity. But it could be built, not in opposition to, but complementary to national, regional and local identities. Contemporary European citizenship requires a new form and new identity.

Citizenship and Risk Society

The decline of national control and the advent of new concepts of citizenship have created new prospects and also certain kinds of risk, uncertainty and insecurity for world citizens, especially since the incident of 11 September 2001 forced people to think again about the effects of new forms of citizenship. As Castells (2000: 354) states, the rise of the international criminal economy has influenced Europe in its decision to integrate into what he terms a ‘network state’, though there are also other underlying causes. One of the main purposes of this kind of unification is to reduce risk and insecurity. As Huntingdon (1993) argues, the effects of globalisation will influence the creation of regional integrated units. If we look at the formation of the European Union, we can see that the architects of this alliance are trying to consolidate Europe as a unit in order to reduce the risks and insecurities facing European people, in terms of both terrorism and financial crises.

Then again multiculturalism and mass migration are also creating insecurity among the people of the ‘developed’ countries. As Wieviorka (1993) argues,

‘This insecurity is enhanced by the growing multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism of European societies, which trigger racism and xenophobia, as people affirm their identity both against a supranational state and against cultural diversification (cited in Castells, 2000: 358).’

This kind of risk has close interrelation to the rise of new forms of citizenship. People are moving around the world and constituting new communities as well as new citizenships. Interaction between different ethnic groups (Asian, African and European poor) increases some kinds of tension and insecurity. Conflicts between different religious people, Muslims and Christian etc., have also created tension in recent times. Modern forms of insecurity have different causes, as Bauman (2004) states: insecurity and fear derive from suspicion of others and their intentions, the refusal of trust or the impossibility of trusting. The new dimensions of multicultural society create this uncertainty, which can cause tension and insecurity between different groups. Bauman (2004) further states that the loss of social capital and the rise of individualism lead people to think only about themselves, no longer accepting responsibility for their kin or vulnerable groups. This is also a result of the erosion of the social welfare state. Bauman argues that the tendency to destroy responsibilities of the state is not a risk to society; rather it creates anxiety among people. So the emergence of multicultural or multi-ethnic societies is not the only cause of creation of anxiety, fear and insecurity. It has different and multidimensional causes.

In case of risk and anxiety, Beck (2002: 41) argues, we are living in an age of incalculable, uncontrollable human-made, unnatural, manufactured uncertain risk that obviously transcends national boundaries. This kind of uncertainty creates risk such as the 11 September 2001 incident. Beck (2002: 39) argues,

‘The collapse of language that occurred on September 11th expresses our fundamental situation in the 21st century, of living in what I call ‘world risk society’.’

He further argues that

‘‘Uncontrollable risks’ must be understood as not being linked to place, that is they are difficult to impute to a particular agent and can hardly be controlled on the level of the nation state (2002: 41).’

Uncontrollable technology poses the ultimate threat to human life on Earth (Adam, 1998, 2002; cited in Beck, 2002: 40). Around the world there are risks (e.g. the 11 September 2001 incident) that are not national problems or risks, but global risks, which should be considered and treated globally. Global laws, institutions and multilateral agreements are needed to deal with them. Beck terms this kind of network the ‘cosmopolitan state’.

Like transnational terrorism, problems such as global warming and environmental degradation are no longer problems of individual nations, but problems of world citizens, because they go beyond the state. As Beck (2002: 48) states,

‘No nation, not even the most powerful, can ensure its national security by itself. World risk society is forcing the nation-state to admit that it cannot live up to its constitutional promise to protect its citizens’ most precious asset, their security. The only solution to the problem of global terror—but also to the problems of financial risk, climate catastrophe and organized crime—is transnational cooperation.’

Transnational cooperation will be more effective when it can revitalize and transform the state into a cosmopolitan state; this could be the groundwork for international cooperation on the basis of human rights and global justice (Beck, 2002: 50). In this regard, Europe was thought to be a potential candidate for a cosmopolitan state in the new climate of global insecurity and terrorism, but Bauman (2004) dismisses European unification as ‘an unfinished adventure’. Regional cooperation (West Europe, East Europe, South-east Asia, the Middle East etc. can be treated as individual regions, as Huntingdon (1993) used this conception. It is cooperation between different countries of the same region) is one possible reaction against this kind of insecurity and fear. But a major problem is the construction of identities like that of the nation state. If we look at the formation of nation state identities, we find common myths, memories, traditions and symbols, which enable the people of the nation state to feel united with common bonds, but it is hard to find such common history, myths and memories in the case of European identity. As Smith (1999: 9) states,

‘What gives nationalism its power are the myths, memories, traditions and symbols of ethnic heritages and the ways in which a popular living past has been, and can be, rediscovered and reinterpreted by modern nationalist intelligentsias. It is from these elements of myths, memory, symbol and tradition that modern national identities are reconstituted in each generation, as the nation becomes more inclusive and as its members cope with new challenges.’

On the other hand, Anderson (1991) calls this process ‘imagined community’ in which print capitalism plays an important role in creating identities and compelling people to feel in this way.

In contrast, if we compare this process with the formation of European identities based on new forms of citizenship, the latter can be seen to be quite a challenge owing to the lack of common memories, myths and feelings. People tend to feel they are part of their national heritage, feelings and memories, rather than part of a regional entity. As Appadurai (1990) argues, when they move to other cultural settings, people from different ethnic groups incorporate themselves into a separate cultural entity because they feel closest to their own national identities, not their new migrant identities. If we consider a multicultural society like the UK, we find many different ethnic minorities from various countries. The question is whether they actually feel British. If not, how will all Europeans ever feel European rather than retaining their own nationality? New forms of citizenship are not a straightforward solution for fear and anxiety. But new forms of citizenship should differ from national forms of identity. European integration is still in the formation period. In this regard, Delanty (1995: viii) sees this uncertainty as:

‘A very basic problem, then can a European identity emerge as a collective identity capable of challenging both the cohesive force of nationalism and racism without becoming transfixed in either consumerism or the official culture of anonymous institutions? The search for new principles of European legitimacy is inextricably bound up with the attempt to create a space in which collective identities can be formed.’

If we think about the possibilities of transnational, network or a cosmopolitan state, it is important to constitute one single European identity, as we are discussing European citizenship. To create such an identity, Europe is entering a unification or assimilation process during which the dominant European countries are showing their hegemonic power. Europe has become a matter of discourse, that is, it implicitly indicates the practice of power towards the poor European countries in order to create one European identity. The European discourse is taking on a strongly ideological character. In this transformation, Europe is becoming hegemonic in the same way that the formation of nation states creates nationalist countries in which smaller cultures and societies are dissolved by the dominant culture (Delanty, 1995: 6). Europe as a unification project is similar to this formation of nation states, which can create conflict among the different countries that leads to fear, tension and anxiety. In this regard, security is becoming more important: terrorism, risk, threats and anxiety are creating a feeling of insecurity among global citizens.

Following the incident of 11 September 2001, the United States of America took certain initiatives to solve the problem of terrorism, speaking of a ‘war against evil’. But this gave birth to another global tension: US dominance. As Beck (2002) states, the new American empire is working to handle this situation by introducing the concepts of multilateralism and the multilateral state. But the nature of multilateral international cooperation is different from that of previous forms. The message from the US to Europe and other allies is, as Beck argues, ‘we will do the cooking and prepare what people are going to eat, then you will wash the dirty dishes’ (2002: 49). If we consider this in terms of European citizenship, the European entity needs to be created so as to balance the forces of Americanisation. But it is not so easy to constitute such an identity; it is an ongoing process that has not yet reached maturity.


European citizenship is rooted in human rights-based democracy, a new form of citizenship, which emerged in response to the totalitarian approach. Later, globalisation came to play an important role in the reshaping or rethinking of European citizenship in the name of multiculturalism and multi-ethnic society. But this kind of citizenship and identities might create new forms of risk, fear, conflict and anxiety, as we have briefly discussed in this essay. The fall of the USSR created millions of refugees within Greater Europe, and people from other poor east European countries have moved towards the comparatively developed countries. Meanwhile, the European Union has set up flexible immigration rules for the European countries. This situation has created additional voices speaking the language of racism and xenophobic nationalism (Delanty, 1995: 162). This is a huge problem for the new European form of citizenship.

With the decline of the nation state in the climate of globalisation, European institutions are trying to implement the idea of the network state. They have started a process of European integration that might create a European identity, but the problem is to what extent people think of themselves as European instead of thinking in terms of their own national identities. The founding of the European Union also realises the new forms of government and state suggested by the term ‘network state’.


Anderson, B. (1991) Imagined Communities, Verso, London.

Appadurai, A. (1990) Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy, Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 7, pp. 295–310, Sage, London.

Bauman, Z. (2004) Europe: An Unfinished Adventure, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Beck, U. (2002) The Terrorist Threat: World Risk Society Revisited, Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 19 (4), pp. 39–55.

Benhabib, S. (2002) ‘Transformations of Citizenship: The case of Contemporary Europe’, Government and Opposition, Vol. 137 (4), pp. 439–465.

Castells, M. (2000) End of Millennium, Blackwell, Oxford.

Delanty, G. (1995) Inventing Europe: Idea, Identity, Reality. Antony Rowe Ltd, Wiltshire.

Habermas, J. (2000) Crossing Globalisation’s Valley of Tears, New Perspectives Quarterly, Vol. 17, Pt.4.

Huntingdon, S.P. (1993) The Clash of Civilisations, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72 (3), p. 28.

Smith, A.D. (1999) Myths and Memories of the Nation, OxfordUniversity Press, Oxford.

Todorov, T. (2003) Hope and Memory, Atlantic, London.

Turner, B.S. (2001) ‘The Erosion of Citizenship’, British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 52 (2), pp. 189–209.

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