August 20, 2016

Citizenship across time and space

Citizenship has historically been a contested concept and involved a wide range of meaning depending upon the types of political community in which it is placed. What kind of relationship should govern a political community internally and externally or the nature of its membership along with rights and duties are debated among social scientists from ancient times. This being so, this is not a new phenomenon but has been the case of all political communities across time and space. The issue of citizenship is not devoid of institutional mechanism and the governance process, which a particular community adopts. Accordingly, it needs to be analysed in congruence with the evolution of state-system and its governing process.
In this juncture, it is worth recalling that the form and substance of citizenship in each historical period highlights the socio-economic and political forces operating at that particular time. Nevertheless, a deeper investigation poses many more questions such as who the citizens are, what constitutes citizenship, who are excluded from or included in citizenship on what basis, whether it is only a legal or political status, or whether it has something to do with the social-economic or religious cultural circumstance in which it is placed upon etc. These questions provide a highly involved set of answers which have to be interpreted from a historical perspective.
In this regard, it would be appropriate to quote Rogers M Smith, who has provident four different means of citizenship. According the first meaning of citizenship, a citizen is a person with political rights, which include participation in self-governing process, rights to vote, to hold elective governmental offices, to serve on various sorts of juries and to participate as equal members in political debates and deliberations. The second meaning considers citizenship as a legal status whereas the third refers to those who belong to almost any human association. Fourthly, citizenship signifies more than just membership in some groups—it includes contribution to the well-being of their political community. Such being the case, what constitutes citizenship remains complex and confusing, making it more interesting and provides ample opportunity to explore its various dimensions and reflect upon the manners in which it suits a particular society.


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