January 19-21, 2006

This seminar will consider how different thinkers and disciplines have imagined what citizenship is and might be. What is the place of citizenship, politicians and scholars ask, in a world characterized by unprecedented economic globalization, international migrations, and marketization? This question has been posed with increasing frequency since the early 1990s, often in response to some political, economic, social, or environmental crisis. How might we imagine our participation in political communities when the boundaries of these communities seem increasingly unstable? Does “citizenship” remain a useful way to do this?

Over time and across the political spectrum, citizenship has been understood as both the legal status of an individual and her sense of belonging to a community. Recent scholars have sought to understand the relationship between these two aspects of citizenship by examining the histories of nations and nation-states. If the particular political configurations imposed by colonialism and decolonization have created different forms of nations, they ask, do these different nations produce or entail different forms of citizenship? Similarly, how might we understand citizenship in cases where one’s “nation” as sovereign community is not the same as the “nation” with which one identifies? In various ways, these questions are crucial to thinking about forms of citizenship in our contemporary world: in multinational states, where more than one nation occupies the same territory; in multicultural societies, where immigrants of different nationalities are integrated into a new nation-state; and in supranational citizenries, like the European Union or the international human rights community.

While some scholars of citizenship have focused on the effects of asymmetries and differences between nations, others have looked at how asymmetries within nations affect the forms and ideals of citizenship. In the American context, scholars have considered how institutions like slavery or the nuclear family have shaped definitions of citizenship (around the criterion of economic self-sufficiency, for example), so that large parts of the population are systematically relegated to “second-class” status. Attempts to address this situation often dispute how citizens’ rights and responsibilities should be balanced and ordered. Is the fulfillment of responsibilities, however defined, the precondition of enjoying rights or full citizenship, as some have insisted (in welfare reform arguments, for example)? Or, must rights come first, as others contend, if we are to acknowledge historical inequalities and create conditions in which all citizens are equally able to fulfill civic responsibilities? Finally, if citizenship is a relation between an individual and a nation, how do we address the ways in which this relation is affected by oppression on the basis of race, say, or gender: are different forms of citizenship needed for different groups of people, in order to ensure that every individual enjoys full political standing?

This seminar will trace such major issues in the history and theory of citizenship in order to understand better our present moment. It will also consider how our present moment can help to illuminate political history and theory. In this light, we will examine one recent crisis in American social and political life: Hurricane Katrina. What can the various responses by citizens, civil society, and the state to Katrina’s aftermath teach us about the meaning of citizenship? By combining a focus on current events, historical trends, and political, legal and anthropological thought, this seminar hopes to identify some of the key questions and challenges that must be faced as we try to imagine forms of membership appropriate to the political communities in which we live today.

Participants will include Adam B. Cox (Law), Michael Dawson (Political Science), John D. Kelly (Anthropology), Jacob T. Levy (Political Science), and Iris Marion Young (Political Science).


  • William Kymlicka and Wayne Norman Return of the Citizen: A Survey of Recent Work on Citizenship Theory In Ethics 104.2 (1994): 352-81. [Download]
    • Kymlicka and Norman consider why the 1990s saw a resurgence of interest in the concept of citizenship, and then trace some major concerns and ideals that characterize recent work on the subject.
  • Judith N. Shklar Introduction In American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991). [Download]
    • In these Tanner lectures, Shklar explores the effects of slavery on the American idea of citizenship. She argues that the American concept of the citizen centers on two key activities that distinguished freeman from slave: voting and earning. She goes on to show how this idea of citizenship functions to exclude some people (primarily those who do not earn a wage for their labor) from full standing.