Posts Tagged ‘genealogy’

Who is the new Citizen? Towards a Genealogy – by Engin Isin

This article, from Citizenship Studies (vol. 1 no. 1), is definitely one of the more broadly interesting articles i’ve read so far. Essentially, Isin’s project is to trace a genealogy, as opposed to a history, of citizenship. A Genealogy is distinct from a history because while a history looks at the content and extent of citizenship (i.e. who has had citizenship rights and obligations, and what have been these rights and obligations), a genealogy of citizenship looks at the context within which citizenship has come in and out of existence over the course of human history.

Isin traces some of the historical incidences of citizenship, including in Greece, Rome, Medieval cities, and in modern nation-states. In all of these, starting with Greece, the emergence of citizenship essentially involved some form of class struggle in order to break the absolute dominance of Kings, the Church, Emperors, etc. thereby earning certain rights and obligations as citizens (As opposed to just subjects). In ancient Greece, there emerged a warrior class. Where, previously, Kings had an an absolute monopoly on the means of warfare (i.e. training, and equipment), the warrior/knight class broke this monopoly by being able to train and arm themselves, and then basically selling their services to the King in return for a say in the running of the kingdom.

In Rome, as in Greece, a class of people, the patricians, arose who were able to control the means of warfare, and thereby gain the status of citizen. Over the course of a couple hundred years, another class, the plebians (essentially artists, craftsmen, and small farmers) were also able to gain the status of citizen, which distinguished them from an even lower class of slaves, serfs, and aliens. Then, as the republic fell apart, all of these rights and responsibilities also fell apart.

In medieval city-states a similar process unfolded with the gradual emergence of citizenship rights first for aristocracy and then for the plebes. City-states were eventually taken over by kingships, which then evolved into modern nations, etc. And then?

In the modern period (basically since the French revolution), citizenship was tied closely to the ownership of property, as in the ownership of property was a requirement for citizenship. Eventually, with the rise of the working class and the middle class, the world wars, etc., citizenship became (more) universal, as in all that was required to have it was to have been born in the country or to have become naturalized. So where does that leave us now?

The last twenty years or so and the dismantling of the welfare state, and the increasing pressures of globalization challenge the concept and the worth of traditional ideas of citizenship rights; being able to vote and have the right to a certain amount of collective provision of welfare is no longer a guarantee of a good life. Or rather, more in line with Isin’s genealogy project, citizenship is no longer a guarantee of influence in the mechanisms and powers that influence the structure of the socioeconomic realm and the division of wealth. Put another way, universal citizenship has done little to mediate the gross disparity in the division of wealth that we have witnessed in the last 20 years. So, if it is no longer political, social, and civil citizenship rights that give one power and influence, what is it? Isin proposes that it is cultural property (knowledge, accreditation, skills, and rank) that enables power and influence. Quoting Isin at length:

Since 1945 the rise of professional occupations has been quite dramatic in modern western societies: in addition to ‘old’ professions such as law andmedicine, new occupations such as engineering, research, journalism, planning,advising, policy, consulting, writing, management, administration, adjudication,negotiation, advertisement, inspection, investigation, imagineering, and caring
have become important means through which individuals seek to augment their wealth, gain status, and exercise power. Unlike nobility (land), labour (wage) or bourgeoisie (money), the new class is made up of career hierarchies of specialized members ostensibly selected by merit and based on a trained expertise. The members of the new class receive a monetary compensation in the form of a
salary, yet the salary is not measured like a wage in terms of work done, but according to the status and position of the member, determined by rank. Today, except for those who inherit capital, the only legitimate avenue open to wealth,status and power is to become a member of the new class.

So, being fully invested in said avenue to power and influence, I’m not sure what to say…