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Ten years after the great financial crisis: taking stock of citizenship developments

This week the world commemorates the global financial crisis of 2008, which was triggered by the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers on 15 September 2008 and quickly spread over the entire globe. On this occasion, it is worth taking a step back and look at what Citizenship Studies, one of the leading journals in the field, wrote in the year before the outbreak of the crisis in Investigating Citizenship: An Agenda for Citizenship Studies – an overview in which the editors Engin F. Isin and Bryan S. Turner took stock of their decade-long collaboration during the period 1997-2007.

A number of elements in Isin and Turner’s rich editorial immediately strike the eye. Many of the concepts and problems discussed are as topical as ever and have in fact only become more salient. This starts with nationalism and capitalism, the two modern movements they see as central to any discussion on citizenship:

Perhaps the first thing to say […] about investigating citizenship is that it inevitably involves the comparative study of the rights and duties of citizens across diverse states. Those rights that depend on obligations to the state have played an important part in the emergence of two modern movements: nationalism and capitalism. We have observed that much of the research undertaken into modern citizenship has been, implicitly or explicitly, concerned with the tensions and contradictions between citizenship and the state (exclusion versus inclusion, rights versus obligations), and between nationalism and capitalism (inward versus outward movements, social cohesion versus accumulation).

They also point out that the traditional Marshallian understanding of citizenship – consisting of civil, political and social rights – has come under increasing criticism. We can think here of the growing role of identity politics in contemporary society. Indeed, as anticipated by the editors, ‘as identity has become a dominant issue of modern social movements, the relevance of Marshall’s world appears to have been eclipsed, and with it, his approach to social rights’.

Isin and Turner’s take on the development of capitalism over the last four decades is as follows:

Citizenship and welfare have […] been profoundly altered by the Anglo-American neo- conservative revolution of the late 1970s, which created a political framework in which governments were no longer committed to the universalistic principles of social rights, a comprehensive welfare state, and full employment. Its tenets were either emulated by or, more frequently, imposed on other governments throughout the 1980s and 1990s, becoming global. These global redistribution strategies that promoted welfare for work saw a reduction of state intervention, deregulation of the labour and financial markets, implementation of free trade, reduction in personal taxation, and fiscal regulation of state expenditure.

It is clear that since 2008 the role of capitalism has come under increasing scrutiny from different angles, such as growing global inequality (see the Occupy movement, the Panama Papers and Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century) and how 20th century capitalism has pushed the world to ecological collapse (for example Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics). In Europe the crisis has led to the imposition of fiscal austerity measures which has led to a brain drain from southern Europe in particular and a potential divide of Europe owing to German hegemony. In that connection, the design flaws in the European common currency are now broadly acknowledged, possibly undermining the entire political project because it removed the possibility for countries to deflate their currency to remain competitive. The current ‘one size fits none’ model may only be remedied by proposals such as the Matheo Solution.

The editors also touched on issues that have become ever more prominent over the last decade, such as the growing securitization in the field of migration and the use of dual citizenship as a method of expelling unwanted (terrorist) residents – sometimes leading to different countries of nationality racing each other who is first to strip an undesirable national of nationality in order not to be accused of rendering the person stateless. Statelessness can even be connected to climate change.

A still more complex issue, in the view of the editors, is ‘the relationship between the human rights of people qua humans and the rights of citizens as members of a nation or the state. Human rights and citizenship, and state sovereignty and rights are often contradictory couplets’. Indeed, while it was already seen that Isin and Turner analyse citizenship as consisting of rights that depend on obligations to the state, ‘the paradox is that human rights are not connected to duties and they are not based on past contributions’.

The role of human rights will likely receive growing attention with the ongoing global refugee crisis. In fact, the editors stress ‘the crucial compatibility of citizenship and human rights’, arguing that ‘although globalization is often assumed to create a world in which citizenship loses its importance, [it remains] of vital importance to contemporary political institutions’:

The problem with human rights is that we experience them as important but often as remote forms of legal protection against threats to our safety and security, but in general people do not exercise their human rights until they are confronted by a crisis. By contrast, having an active, dynamic and vital citizenry is an absolute precondition of democracy that upholds human rights.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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