September 05, 2016

Common identity versus cultural provenance

Contemporary debates concerning citizenship and rights have raised questions about the notion that citizens can enjoy rights regardless of the situations under which they are living. An important terrain of contention has opened up since 1980s in citizenship theory, with multi-culturalism, plurality, diversity and difference becoming important terms of reference for re-theorizing citizenship. This contest is, in practical effect, related to the unmasking of those differences previously regarded as impertinent to citizenship.
In this regard, it would not be inappropriate to recall that there is an increasing effort to redefine citizenship by placing an emphasis upon cultural differences among individuals and by striking a proper balance between the numerous religious, ethnic and linguistic identities while building a common political identity of the citizens of a nation. It is worth noting here that the notions of multiculturalism and minority rights have been involved in contemporary periods as democratic values, whereby cultural communities can claim inherent rights and negotiate fair terms of inclusion in the national political space. This influential strand within the citizenship theory has sought to invest in multiculturalism as the core element of democratic citizenship that cherishes cultural diversity and envisages a society in which diversified communities forge a common identity while retaining their cultural provenance.
It is worth quoting Kymlicka, who has identified three forms of group-differentiated rights: self-government rights; poly-ethnic rights and special representation rights. Self-government rights recognise some kind of political autonomy or territorial jurisdiction of national minorities. Such rights are manifested in federal structures where the boundaries of federal sub-units are given the same autonomy. Poly-ethnic rights are concerned with specific rights of immigrant communities. Under this assumption, they should abandon all aspects of their ethnic heritage and be assimilated into the existing cultural norms and practices. Such rights may take, in the beginning, the form of demanding the right to express their peculiarities and differences without fear of prejudice or discrimination in the mainstream society. However, the ethnic groups may come to expand these rights, demanding positive action in the form of protection, preservation and nurturing from the state to root out discrimination and preserve their existence as distinct entities. Special representations rights have evoked interest among national and ethnic groups as well as non-ethnic categories – women, the poor and the disabled. This fundamentally translates into democratising the structures of the state by making it more representative, e.g., making the legislative bodies more representative by including members of ethnic and racial minorities and women, the poor, the disabled etc.


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