The Changing Definition of Citizenship

Citizenship used to be defined by the national space. The people within this boundary were assured of exclusive privileges and rights. However certain elements threaten to tear apart the definition of citizenship. Aihwa Ong argues that the aspect of citizenship is no longer limited to variables such as territory, the nation-state, rights, and entitlement (2006). Some factors are causing a blur between citizens and non-citizens such as market forces, technology and human rights (Ong, 2006). An instance is the way expatriates, migrants, and refugees living in a country end up enjoying the same rights and benefits as the citizens of the country. The citizens of the country are now experiencing limited or contingent protection by the governments of their countries. There are mutations in citizenship where the basis of determining citizenship will not be a territory or nation-state, rather the location of the citizenship will be the marketplace1. In such environments, there arises the concept of “flexible citizenship”.

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This is where the people are mobile, moving to places where there are opportunities for their growth and rise in standard of living. The individual now becomes the primary economic agent whose success gives the optimum mechanism of distribution of public resources. The citizens of the country now realize that their security and well-being are dependent on them personally. Their success in achieving these benefits is determined by their ability to confront global insecurities and pursue their personal economic success.. Global citizenship works on two premises. The first is the equal treatment of individuals where the same rules and laws are applied. Marrissa Borgess highlights the concept of differentiated global citizenship (2010). This is because they are people who are disadvantaged. These are people who should have special rights for there to be equality in the world.

Global citizenship or cosmopolitan pushes the borders of the national space to include those who had previously been excluded. It creates the issue of pluralism and layers or multiple authorities in the attainment of global unity. Citizenship becomes an issue of residency and not citizenship (Borgess, 2010). Individuals are therefore tied to multiple locations and transnational institutions. The national borders are fluid based on transnational bodies that rely on human rights rather than on nationality in granting people rights. This enables the people to echo local struggles at the global level or make global claims at the local level. Mapping citizenship has become difficult. The national space is no longer relied on rather it is the multiple spaces that exist that have altered the rules of participation, recognition and protection in citizenship2. Another contribution to the mutation in citizenship definition is the aspect of humanitarianism. Didier Fassin highlights how there has been a rise in the efforts of humanitarian groups fighting for the immigrants based on their right to a healthy life (2001). This has led to the idea of “biological citizenship”(Fassin, 2001). Citizenship is being granted to an individual based on health and not on the traditional methods of gaining citizenship of birth alone3. After the Chernobyl accident, the affected people claimed biomedical resources and social equity. In the refugee camps, the people have found the courage to make political claims. They make the claims not based on citizenship but the right to live that is recognized universally.

In societies that were highly controlled, the individuals have found an opening to demand justice, accountability and democratic freedoms. In Indonesia, the people were able to come together and protest against state brutality and corruption. There have also been openings for the displaced and marginalized people to demand urban housing, water and electricity as was recently shown by the street demonstrations by the marginalized people in India and Latin America. Countries are coming to accept universal elements in human rights and economic markets that threaten the traditional way citizenship is considered If the countries go the human-rights way, it is the same as the foreigners having partial citizenship or political membership for the migrants.

Even as these changes in citizenship occur, some countries are still too strict or resistant in accepting “global citizenship” The prevalent conditions in France are a good example. The government has made an allowance for migrants to be considered for citizenship if they are facing life-threatening illnesses such as AIDS. These people must have been living in France for a while. A further condition is that getting treatment in their home countries must be difficult therefore they need to stay in France to get treatment. The French government did not want their immigration laws to cause certain suffering or death which would occur if the person was deported.

The provision was put in the 1998 amendment on the 2nd November, 1945 on conditions of entry and Residence of Foreigners. The humanitarian rights have come in to fill the gap created by the political system failure or reluctance to recognize the emerging neo-liberal definitions of citizenship4. The undocumented citizens are now relying on the human rights clause to find a way to remain and live in the country. Sadly, the immigrants are turning to inject themselves with AIDS so that they can be given citizenship status. People are now turning to humanitarian aspects and in the process creating a whole new political system based on humanitarian (Ticktin, 2006) Miriam Ticktin argues that the reliance by the government on humanitarianism grounds to give residency papers is not right (2006). First of all, the doctors have the discretion of determining whether the individuals are able to get medical help or not.

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There is a lot of ambiguity in the whole process. There is no list of the life-threatening diseases. The information on whether the individuals can receive treatment in their home countries is not easily retrieved. Overall, even though the state has attempted to allow undocumented immigrants to get papers based on the illness clause, due to ambiguity and lack of legal terms and definitions, the immigrants end up not being helped at all. The whole process is pegged on the mercy or compassion of the doctors, nurses and immigration officers. If countries fail to allow cultural diversity and reliance on market forces, there will arise serious consequences. Countries should accept global citizenship that embraces the migration of people across borders, human rights rhetoric and the formation of transnational bodies like the European Union.

Global citizenship believes in the importance of the individual as opposed to social groups. The individual has rights and privileges. The right of an individual is given to all individuals in the world regardless of their nationality or ethnic orientation. It is believed that each individual should have an adequate share of the global resources.

Jean Bradol notes that western countries have interfered in countries that do not take care of their citizens (2004). Where a crisis was taking place, the western countries have realized that they cannot rely on the specific countries to protect people. Western powers have warned them that they will not be limited in the pursuit of peace, liberty and human rights in the world. Humanitarian aid is based on the premise of the avoidance of premature death or injury of any civilian. When there is the consistent practice of the humanitarian order however there will be a clash with the established political order. In fact political authorities tend to hide the people who are suffering from the eyes of the international community. The humanitarian workers will appeal to the law in their defense in order to pressure the political authorities into action. However, at times they have resorted to breaking the law in order to save lives. However the humanitarian organizations have failed the people on several occasions (Bradol, 2004). They have supported world powers like USA when they invaded countries and overthrew governments all in the name of promoting humanitarianism. Yet, the move was political, since the country is anti-America, it was all about the disregard of a country’s sovereign authority. Humanitarian aid has been lax in assisting some people since world powers are sympathetic towards certain governments5. This is wrong as political powers have the tendency to choose who will live and who will not. They generally condone human sacrifice.

Brett Bowden argues that the adoption of global citizenship will lead to statelessness where the people lack the security and rights that the citizens of a stable country should be enjoying (2003). The citizens of a country participate in the political life of the state. The laws impact them significantly so they must have a say in the establishment of political persons and the laws. The practice of global citizenship cannot be effective due to the lack of a world government or a supra-national law6. The existence of a global citizenship with existing nationalities is utter chaos, since any citizenship given to an individual would always give way to the demands of other existing states. The establishment of a world sovereign state would be the end of the terms citizenship and world politics. Global citizenship has its foundations or beginnings in AD 121-180 with the stoics in the Roman Empire who believed that an individual belonged to a republic and the world. In the event of conflicting loyalties, the person was to obey the world’s or cosmopolitan’s duties first of all. The theory later arose with the enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant and Thomas Paine.

However, the stoics were speaking of the conquest of the world and the spread of an empire. Global citizenship has been used by the western world to explain their interference and activities in non-western countries. The Westerners want the other people who conform to western ideologies to join them in global citizenship with the west as the center. This will signify the death of the other cultures. Yet the embracing of all the cultures will cause the people not to have any culture at all (Bowden, 2003). The enlightenment school of thought is linked to imperialism where the European countries spread their political control to countries in Africa.

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The scholars argue that global citizenship provides citizenship to refugees as they are stateless. The state is the primary custodian and enforcer of human rights. People cannot rely on the international community for protection since the international community is a body of different states acting in the interests of the states. The international community has not been able to assist the refugees adequately.


Brett Bowden’s suggestion that scholars should instead advocate for people to be globally-minded citizens is wise. This is a person who accepts that diverse people are living beyond his country. He understands that his actions in his country will affect others in other countries. Implementing global citizenship has huge consequences and should be analyzed critically. Caution should be exercised.

Works Cited

Borgess, Marrissa. “From national to cosmopolitan: the blueprint of space in citizenship debates”.2010. Web.

Bowden, Brett “The perils of global citizenship. Citizenship Studies”, 7.3(2003): 349-362. Print.

Bradol, Jean Herv´e. Introduction: The Sacrificial International Order and Humanitarian Action. in In the Shadow of “Just Wars”:Violence, Politics, and Humanitarian Action. Fabrice Weissman, ed. Vincent Homolka, Roger Leverdier, and Fiona Terry, 1–24. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Print.

Fassin, Didier ‘Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life.’ Public Culture 19.3(2007):499-520.Print.

Ong, Aihwa. ‘Mutations in Citizenship.’ Theory Culture Society, 23.2–3(2006): 499–531. Print.

Ticktin, Miriam ‘Where Ethics and Politics Meet: The Violence of Humanitarianism in France.’ American Ethnologist, 33.1(2006):33-49. Print.


  1. Ong, Aihwa. ‘Mutations in Citizenship.’ Theory Culture Society, 23.2–3(2006): 499–531. Print.
  2. Borgess, Marrissa. “From national to cosmopolitan: the blueprint of space in citizenship debates”.
  3. Fassin, Didier. ‘Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life.’ Public Culture 19.3(2007):499-520.Print.
  4. Ticktin, Miriam ‘Where Ethics and Politics Meet: The Violence of Humanitarianism in France.’ American Ethnologist, 33.1(2006):33-49. Print.
  5. Bradol, Jean Herv´e. Introduction: The Sacrificial International Order and Humanitarian Action. In In the Shadow of “Just Wars”:Violence, Politics, and Humanitarian Action. Fabrice Weissman, ed. Vincent Homolka, Roger Leverdier, and Fiona Terry, trans.Pp. 1–24. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2004. Print.
  6. Bowden, Brett(2003) “The perils of global citizenship”. Citizenship Studies, 7.3(2003): 349-362.
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