Welfare, citizenship, and recognition

Yussef Al Tamimi, 3 November 2015

1. Introduction

“I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” However prophetic these words by Socrates might seem, the contemporary understanding of citizenship is rather more subdued. Discussions on citizenship oftentimes revolve around the nation-state or, in Europe’s case, the European Union. However, in an age of mass immigration, religious and cultural pluralism, and allegiances to multiple nation-states, the question of when one is regarded as a citizen has become more complex. The concept of citizenship is further complicated by the increasingly intricate relationship between the state and its citizens, making the delineation of the citizenship concept particularly significant.

The aim of this essay is to explore how the changes in the welfare state have affected the experience of social citizenship. To answer this question, I will proceed in three steps. First, the concept of social citizenship, as proposed by T.H. Marshall in his essay ‘Citizenship and Social Class’ (1950), will be examined. Then, I will delve deeper into how social citizenship is experienced within a society. I will argue that, next to Marshall’s listing of civil, political, and social citizenship, there is a fourth type of citizenship, the ‘moral’ one, which is essential to understand how social citizenship is experienced. Finally, I will consider how the developments in the welfare state have affected the experience of social citizenship.

2. What is social citizenship?

2.1 Social citizenship

Marshall’s essay on citizenship and how it has altered the pattern of social inequality is regarded as a seminal text in the development of the concept of citizenship (e.g. Mann 1987). Marshall asks how it is possible that democracy coexists with capitalism; whereas democracy implies equality of citizenship, capitalism is a system based on social inequality (Quadagno 1987). Marshall makes a distinction between three ‘parts’ of citizenship: civil, political, and social. The civil part consists of the rights that are necessary for individual freedom, such as freedom of thought and freedom of speech. Political citizenship purports the right to participate in the exercise of political power, either actively as a representative or as an elector of such representatives. Finally, social citizenship consists of the rights required “to live the life of a civilized being according to the standards prevailing in the society” (Marshall 1950: 11). The notion of social citizenship is the basis for social rights which offer citizens claims to welfare. The social citizen is entitled to social security in times of unemployment and sickness, and has other rights which provide the individual with a decent opportunity to succeed in society. Institutionally, these social rights find their home in the services of the welfare state.

The three parts of citizenship stand in a sequential order to one another. In Great Britain, Marshall states, there has been an evolution of rights, from “civil rights in the eighteenth [century], political in the nineteenth, and social in the twentieth” (ibid.: 14). For Marshall, the steady evolution of these rights have caused social class distinctions to crumble in the twentieth century.

The evolutionary aspect of Marshall’s theory of citizenship has become the object of one of the main arguments against the theory (Mann 1987). Marshall is criticised for treating the development of citizenship rights as an irreversible and natural phenomenon, rather than as the outcome of the active endeavours of concrete groups of people (Giddens 1982). The commitment of the working class and the underprivileged played a considerable role in improving their own political and social standing in society. Moreover, treating citizenship as an evolutionary process fails to account for political periods where Western governments have chosen to cut back on welfare services. The significance of political ambition for civil, political and social rights is thus underappreciated in Marshall’s theory.

2.2 The rights-oriented approach

A second concern that can be raised against Marshall’s theory of citizenship is the fact that it focuses exclusively on the role of rights in the concept of citizenship. Recent literature contains new distinctions in the concept of citizenship that go beyond an exclusively legal approach to citizenship. Kymlicka and Norman (1994) argue that two different understandings of the concept of citizenship should not be conflated: citizenship-as-legal-status and citizenship-as-desirable-activity. The former understands citizenship as full membership in a particular political community; the latter considers that the extent and quality of one’s citizenship is a function of one’s participation in that community. Neither of these concepts can be understood as a replacement of the other, because they are independent concepts. Therefore, neither one of these concepts exclusively suffices to explain the concept of citizenship; Marshall’s focus, however, seems to be exclusively on citizenship-as-legal-status.

A similar distinction is made by Schinkel (2010), taking after Habermas (1998: 112), between formal and moral citizenship. Schinkel notes that, for a brief period in the twentieth century, citizenship functioned as a guarantor of membership of both the nation-state and the discursive domain of society (ibid.: 267). However, in a globalized age of constant flows of migration, this is no longer plausible. The contemporary discourse on citizenship is less focused on the formal question whether one is legally part of the nation-state, but rather on the moral inclusion of the citizen in society (ibid.: 278). Moral citizenship posits extra-legal, normative conceptions of what a ‘real’ citizen is. Perhaps the oldest of these moralisations is the notion that true citizenship is active citizenship. As Thucydides recounts from Pericles’s funeral oration: “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.” (Thucydides 1954: 119). Here, a ‘real’ citizen is regarded as a citizen who is active.

Schinkel argues that this kind of moralisation is particularly dominant in the current discourse about citizenship and integration in Western European countries. Citizens who are, in cultural or religious terms, ‘different’ are expected to satisfy certain expectations to become ‘real’ citizens. In hypothesising on the motive behind this moralisation of citizenship, Schinkel remarks that moral citizenship is a way in which the state aims to regain control over the inclusiveness and exclusiveness of society. Contemporary globalization has not only hollowed out the unity underlying nation-states, it has also weakened the identity associated with the individual state. By means of an emphasis on moral rather than legal citizenship, states attempt to regain their identity. Moreover, through this new emphasis, states move their efforts from social services as part of a welfare state to the field of culture. This alters the focus from the state’s responsibility to individual responsibility; the citizen is now less a rights-bearing worker, but more an individual burdened with the duty of cultural allegiance and national loyalty (Schinkel 2010: 279).

3. Experiencing social citizenship

The second objection against Marshall’s theory – that there is an extra-legal, normative aspect to citizenship next to the formal, legal one – presents us with a valuable insight to ponder on the next question: how is citizenship experienced in society? More specifically, what is the relation between the moral citizenship that we just discussed and social citizenship in the Marshallian sense? As mentioned above, whereas membership of the nation-state and membership of society used to be analogous, presently there is a distinction between the two; one can be a formal member of the nation-state, but regarded as a non-member on moral or cultural grounds. This influences the experience of social citizenship in two ways.

First, exclusion from society through the moralisation of citizenship prevents the excluded people from fully enjoying their social rights. It is important to note that a broad, sociological conception of rights includes not only formal rights but also institutionalised practices, such as the implementation of these rights and informal societal norms. Rights enable action, and this holds not only for legal rights but also for other institutionalised opportunities (Andersen 2005: 79). The moralisation of rights and the subsequent exclusion and discrimination of certain groups in society influences the way these groups are treated institutionally. The education system and the labour market can confer advantage on people that they consider real citizens, and in doing so, disadvantage those that are deemed to be outside of society. Thus, these excluded groups are prevented from fully and equally enjoying their social rights.

Secondly, and more broadly, the sense of belonging to society may dictate how one experiences and engages with civil, political and social rights within society. Political scientists, like Putnam (2000), watch the nature and extent of public participation closely for clues to the overall health of the community. Young people, however, those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds in particular, often experience difficulties with engaging in society. This might lead to unemployment, (further) social exclusion or in some cases even radicalisation. Partly, the solution lies in having the confidence as a young person to engage with society, and the other part has to do with the receptivity of society to accept them with open arms. Having a sense of belonging, or feeling ‘at home’ in society, plays a decisive role in determining what one does with, and the experiences gained from, the social rights that the law confers on its citizens. This point is stressed especially by communitarian thinkers such as Charles Taylor and Michael Walzer. In The Politics of Recognition, Taylor (1992) holds a plea for the inclusive recognition of cultural and religious differences between citizens in society in order to prevent individuals from feeling disengaged with society.

4. Changes in the welfare state and the experience of social citizenship

We have now established that the experience of social citizenship is strongly influenced by moral citizenship, i.e. the normative expectations for when one is considered part of society. Now we turn to the main question of how the changes in the welfare state have affected the experience of social citizenship.

First, we have to identify the changes in welfare that we are referring to. Prior to World War II, only a few nations had implemented welfare programs. In most Western nations, national welfare differed little from traditional relief systems (Quadagno 1987: 111). However, in the post-war period, welfare programs were transformed into more comprehensive systems of universal benefits, guaranteeing individuals a basic standard of living (ibid.). Next to the many national programs that governments implemented during this period, on an international level legal documents, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations, were agreed upon and adopted. On the basis of these developments, it can be readily said that in many Western nations social citizenship as such has improved dramatically in the post-war period.

A model that has been used to explain these developments is the power resources model. This model posits that the welfare state developments in the post-war period are related to the strength of social-democratic parties and organized labour (Korpi 1983; Shalev 1983). The essential argument of this perspective is that the growth of trade unions and social-democratic political parties has been the main force in devising and developing public policies designed to bring about greater equality between the different classes in society (Shalev 1983: 317). Much of the scholarly work on this model is based on policies associated with social rights as the dependent variable and the strength of social-democratic parties as the independent variable. Many critics of the power resources model have focused on the legitimacy of the independent variable (e.g. Van Kersbergen 1994, who suggests that Christian-democratic parties have been elemental to the development of the welfare state), but few have questioned whether the dependent variable, policies associated with social rights, is a viable measure of welfare state development. This can surely be asserted on the basis of arguments put forward in the previous chapters; while social right give persons entitlements next to their civil and political rights, they mean little if persons do not feel connected to the society within which such rights are exercised. These rights lack the positive force of rights – in the Berlinian (1969) sense – to make people actually excel and enable them to live their life to the fullest of their abilities. Therefore, social citizenship seems to be a rather limited concept when it is seen in this sense, that is, without taking into account the extent to which people experience they belong to society; it lacks the power to actually add to the social wellbeing of the persons in society.

Research on the influence that welfare state developments have had on the experience of social citizenship has to clarify whether these developments have been fruitful for the different groups living in Western countries. Special attention needs to be given to the influence that the notion of moral citizenship has on the sense of belonging of persons in society. It should be noted that aspects of moral citizenship can also be transferred to formal citizenship through the legal codification of moral norms (Schinkel 2010). The state itself speaks in the discourse of moral citizenship and tries to run its policies in accordance with values that it sees fit for its citizens. Thus, there is a weakness in assuming a strict dichotomy between formal and moral citizenship. It is hard to pull these two aspects of citizenship apart, because the civil, political and social citizenship seem to always contain an underlying normative expectation of its citizens. For example, the political right to participate in elections contains a view of the citizen as an individual who is invested in his or her political position in society. Again, a social right like the right to education is based on a normative view that an educated society is preferable over an uneducated one. Even at a basic level, civil rights such as freedom of thought and speech presuppose an autonomous and self-determining human being. It could be argued that formal citizenship is always built on some conception of moral citizenship.

A way to react to this argument is that, despite the possibility of the juridification of moral norms, at any point in time there will always be a normative aspect in the understanding of citizenship that goes beyond the purely formal, legal citizenship. More than that, I believe the moral aspect of citizenship carries more weight than legal citizenship; belonging to society is a day in day out experience that we feel and is something that we notice in our everyday encounters. Therefore, the cultural education of society in getting to know the ‘other’ is what remains most important, rather than making laws of everything.

5. Conclusion – a right to belong?

T.H. Marshall’s ‘Citizenship and Social Class’ was elemental to the development of the concept of citizenship. In this essay, I have argued two things. Firstly, I argued that there is a moral aspect to citizenship that goes beyond the rights-oriented approach that we find in Marshall’s theory of citizenship. At present, being a ‘real’ citizen does not only entail having certain rights, but is also determined by the adherence of a person to certain moral and cultural norms. Secondly, I argued that the moral aspect of citizenship is essential to understand how citizenship is experienced within society. The inclusion of a person in society dictates how one experiences and engages with civil, political and social rights within society. Thus, social right may give persons entitlements to provide them with a basic standard of living, they mean little if persons do not feel connected to the society within which such rights are exercised. Research needs to be conducted that takes an inclusive look at how citizenship is experienced within society and how changes in the welfare state have affected this experience. Perhaps we should consider a new social right: a right to belong. This gives governments the positive obligation to, as much as they can, ensure to make their societies inclusive. People are given an enforceable right to expect from their government to make sure legislation and policy is inclusive and thus guarantee the effective enjoyment of their social rights.

Literature cited

Andersen, J.G. (2005) ‘Citizenship, unemployment and welfare policy’ in: J.G. Andersen, A. Guillemard, P.H. Jensen and B. Pfau-Effinger, The Changing Face of Welfare: Consequences and outcomes from a citizenship perspective, Bristol: The Policy Press, pp. 75-92.

Berlin, I. (1969) Two Concepts of Liberty in: I. Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Giddens, A. (1982) Profiles and Critiques in Social Theory, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Habermas, J. (1998) The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Korpi, W. (1983) The Democratic Class Struggle, London: Routledge.

Mann, M. (1987) ‘Ruling Class Strategies and Citizenship’, Sociology, 21(3), pp. 339-354.

Marshall, T.H. (1950) Citizenship and Social Class and Other Essays, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Putnam, R. (2000) Bowling Alone, New York: Simon and Shuster.

Quadagno, J. (1987) ‘Theories of the welfare state’, Annual Review of Sociology, 13, pp. 109-128.

Schinkel, W. (2010) ‘The Virtualization of Citizenship’, Critical Sociology, 36(2), pp. 265-283.

Shalev, M. (1983) ‘The Social Democratic Model and Beyond: Two Generations of Comparative Research on the Welfare State’, Comparative Social Research 6, pp. 315-351.

Taylor, C. (1992) ‘The Politics of Recognition’ in: A. Gutmann (ed.), Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 25-73.

Thucydides (1954) The Peloponnesian War, London: Penguin.

Van Kersbergen, K. (1994) ‘The Distinctiveness of Christian Democracy’ in: D. Hanley (ed.), Christian Democracy in Europe. A Comparative Perspective, London and New York: Pinter Publishers, pp. 31-47.

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