“Being a citizen means having a stake in society.”
A citizen is a full member of society. In practice, citizenship is, first and foremost, a legal status. To be a citizen is to have particular rights and be subject to the laws of a nation.
However, the concept of citizenship encompasses much more than a legal status. It helps to define the relationship of people to each other and their contribution to society. To be a citizen is to have the right to build a life, to forge a career and to raise a family within a specific society and, in the process, play an economic, social and political role in that place’s life. Being a citizen means having a stake in society.
Citizenship is made meaningful in the context of the nation state. Yet it is not reducible to speaking a language, knowing facts about a country or being able to sing the national anthem. Neither is it merely a subject on the school curriculum. Citizenship involves something far more fundamental: the right to shape society and its institutions through democratic participation.
In the context of apparently competing identities, the importance of national citizenship is sometimes downplayed, or even viewed as narrow and limiting. On occasion it is contrasted unfavourably to global citizenship, or being a ‘citizen of the world’. This is a false counter position – a recognition of the importance of national citizenship does not prevent an internationalist outlook. It is through national citizenship that people can take an active part in the deliberation and contestation of ideas and interests in relation to their own nation, and in solidarity with others.
Cultivating pride in national citizenship – not as a formal status gained through parentage, but as active participation in democratic processes – allows us to develop and celebrate shared aims and common values. The consideration of these values, of what unites us as citizens, can help overcome identity-based divisions. A vibrant public sphere, underpinned by freedom of expression and association, is vital for breathing life into citizenship.