Background

The Quest for Citizenship

The quest for citizenship has become a crucial issue for both individuals and governments in contemporary Europe. A continued momentum of Europeanization, including the enlargement of the European Union, has now combined with a long-lasting and deep economic and financial crisis, with serious social consequences. Increasingly, questions of inclusion and exclusion, of entitlements and responsibilities, are framed in terms of different constructions of citizenship.

Individual citizens are confronted with an intensification of new or more visible processes of social exclusion. Who has which rights? And who is excluded from some of those rights? On what basis or argument? Do newcomers to a country have the same rights and does the granting of rights to some involve a loss of rights for others? So many rights – the right to work, the right to education, the right to religious and sexual freedoms, the right to participate in collective decision-making in the polis, and the rights to social security, welfare, and pensions, amongst others – are being contested and redefined in fundamental ways. Europeanization creates both new options and new uncertainties about the future of these rights in different spheres: political, social, economic, environmental and cultural. The quest for citizenship, which had been thought of as a relic of the past, is rapidly becoming one of the most contentious issues of the day.

Governmental authorities, whether local, national, or supranational, seem to need the citizen in many ways. They need citizens who identify themselves with the geographical region these governments strive to have jurisdiction over. They need them to legitimize and support the policies they decide upon, often including severe budget cuts and cuts in income and welfare provisions. They need the citizen to take responsibility for the tasks these societies regard important, but for which the governments lack the means or the ambition. Today’s “good citizen” is an “active citizen” who does not depend entirely on the government. A quest for citizenship is also about knowing what the citizen wants. In realizing that there is no such thing as ‘the’ citizen, it is, for both governments at the national level and for the EU, increasingly difficult to determine what courses of action are in line with what citizens want. Despite many efforts to close the ‘democratic deficit’, indeed, it is questionable whether ‘European citizenship’, in terms of rights to participate in a European public sphere, actually exists. In addition, in the context of globalization, large-scale migration, and the development of new (and often ethicized) national states and regional identities, the loyalty of citizens and identification of citizens with particular political constellations can no longer be taken for granted.

In this course we addressed three broad sets of questions:

  1. What are the new and emerging forms of social exclusion connected to citizenship rights in Europe today? How do they merge with and challenge existing social contracts and ideas of rights at local, national and European levels? What are the implications of inequalities within and between countries for citizenship rights? What are the key characteristics and mechanisms of these forms of social exclusion and how can they be challenged?
  2. How do national governments and the EU relate to their citizens and address issues of citizenship? How far do these reinforce and extend practices of inclusion and exclusion? Has the meaning of citizenship changed in the context of the economic and fi-nancial crisis? Is citizenship inevitably framed by who is excluded? Has there been an extension or a diminution of citizenship rights over time?
  3. What is known about what citizens in Europe really want? How does the European Union respond to the demands of different groups of citizens? What are the problems and possibilities of the concept of ‘active citizens’? How far can the participation of citizens challenge the power of vested interests in Europe and reinvigorate democracy?

The course encourages diverse approaches to these questions from different academic disciplines, including, but not limited to, anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, and law. Above all, we encourage an exploration of these issues which combine theory and practice, addressing both analytical questions and issues of policy interventions, governance and political strategy, whether at the local, national, comparative, European and/or global level.