Transdisciplinary Areas of ExcellenceCitizenship, Rights and Cultural Belonging

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Citizenship and Belonging

This research theme seeks new understandings of citizenship (both formal and substantive) and belonging in and across different historical and geographical settings.  It is intended to facilitate the examination of various permutations, representations and conceptualizations of membership that individuals have in political, administrative or social entities, as well as the factors that structure and mediate their relationships and experiences of belonging.

"Citizenship," and in its broader sense "belonging," have referred generally to rights and obligations defining the relationship between an individual and a political entity such as a city, an empire, a kingdom, a nation-state, a commonwealth or a tribe; administrative entities such as a professional organization or a workplace; or social entities such as a religious organization or family. Citizenship rights may include (but aren't necessarily limited to) the right to live, work and own property in the community; the right to participate politically; and the right to receive both protection and justice. Citizenship obligations include loyalty to the political entity and its laws, and may entail such things as taxes and military service. The study of citizenship and belonging is an analysis of one's interactions on equal terms with other members of an organization, broadly defined, and the factors that inhibit equality. Because citizenship demarcates the boundaries of a community — and communities are always changing — it is not a static concept. The boundary-drawing involved in citizenship happens within particular historical, social, political, economic and geographic settings. It may also be affected by factors such as language, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, class, dis/ability, age, sexual orientation and culture.

Scholars refer to juridical, social, cultural and participatory citizenship. They often distinguish between formal citizenship and substantive citizenship; the latter refers to the actual possession of civil, social and political rights and thereby raises cultural dimensions of belonging. Formal legal citizenship creates the structures that legitimate the granting or denial of rights, but it is not sufficient to guarantee their exercise. Many factors affect the exercise of substantive citizenship, including economic security, societal prejudice and mechanisms for enforcing citizenship rights.

This TAE seeks to interrogate the various permutations of citizenship and belonging by asking questions such as:

  • What is the relationship between citizenship and power? How has citizenship been defined by those in power? How have traditionally marginalized groups contested, resisted, deployed, adapted to or changed such definitions?
  • What facilitates, impedes or counters the process of boundary-making implied by citizenship and belonging?
  • What does citizenship/belonging (and exclusion) mean? Can the relationship between individuals and political entities be conceived in other ways than rights and duties?
  • What are the political, economic, and social consequences when large portions of a state's residents lack formal citizenship or have only recently received it?
  • How is citizenship/belonging expressed in law, the arts, literature, philosophy? How is it lived?
  • How do individuals' identities mediate their experience of citizenship?
  • What relationships other than citizenship define an individual's position in a political community? What other memberships or relationships compete with citizenship? How do individuals and political entities negotiate competing citizenship claims?
  • How ought conflicts between citizenship and other forms of belonging be resolved or adjudicated?

Last Updated: 12/3/13