In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Democratic Citizenship

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals and Newsletters
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Toleration and Intolerance
  • Trust and Discontent
  • Obligations

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Political Science Democratic Citizenship
Ugur Altundal, Richard Valelly
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 May 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 May 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0013


Democratic citizenship is membership in a political democracy. The unit for democratic membership does not have to be a nation-state: it can also be a city or some other subnational jurisdiction (a canton, province, or state) or a supranational order (as in the case of a regional compact, such as the European Union). There can be dual, external, and transnational citizenship, increasingly common in a globalized world. Wherever it can be found, democratic citizenship features a bundle of enforceable rights and liberties, policy benefits, enforceable obligations to the jurisdiction (such as being law-abiding), affective attachment to some degree to the democracy, weaker or stronger capacities of citizens for active membership (such as cognitive evaluation of public debate and policy choices and participation), better or worse appreciation by the citizen of widely discussed relevant norms (such as toleration), and stronger or weaker awareness of collective memories that partly define the meaning and history of membership in the political unit. Because people live their lives in a democratic jurisdiction, citizenship is a life course experience over time. But democracies coexist with free markets and societies, so the activity of involvement in democratic citizenship is hardly full-time. Instead, it is—perhaps desirably—undertaken only episodically, typically before, during, and after a range of civic acts, such as paying attention to public events, paying taxes, collecting policy benefits, voting, or flag commemoration. Democratic citizenship is not a constant or burdensome activity or experience, not least because democratic government is periodically accountable representative government performed by elected and appointed officials as opposed to continuous popular control and management of government. Democratic citizenship requires fundamental principles (e.g., equal rights and duties, and universal inclusion). In practice, however, these principles have not been fully realized in many democratic societies until recently. Moreover, increasing mobility and migration practices reveal the limits and the weaknesses of democratic citizenship. Contemporary challenges not only encourage revisiting traditional understandings in light of nonideal practices, but they also enable new ways of constructing democratic citizenship. The works included here are drawn principally from Anglo-American and western European cases, but this is done without any implication at all that these cases exhaust the topic.

General Overviews

Three forms of intellectual and academic inquiry that focus on democratic citizenship and that are represented here are political philosophy, which treats what democratic citizenship can and ought to be like; political science, which treats what democratic citizenship is and has actually been like in and across political jurisdictions; and sociology, which treats how, why, and when democratic citizenship becomes the terrain for group conflict or cooperation. But there is no single work or school that integrates these diverse disciplinary approaches to the topic. Bellamy 2008, Cohen and Ghosh 2019, Leydet 2017, and Magnette 2005 provide short surveys of the idea of citizenship. In contrast, Christiano 2018 allows for exploration among related topics. Kymlicka and Norman 1994 and Walzer 1989 succinctly present dualisms and contrasts that go with the topic of democratic citizenship.

  • Bellamy, Richard. Citizenship: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780192802538.001.0001

    Treats the elements of democratic citizenship, the evolution of democratic citizenship, and the range of political philosophical debates concerning contemporary democratic citizenship.

  • Christiano, Tom. “Democracy.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2018.

    An overview of democratic citizenship coupled to a bibliography and links to related entries and topics, such as “Liberalism,” “Civil Rights,” “Political Representation,” “Rights,” and “Constitutionalism.”

  • Cohen, Elizabeth F., and Cyril Ghosh. Citizenship. Cambridge, UK, and Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2019.

    A comprehensive introduction to the concept of citizenship. Addresses traditional theories of citizenship as well as feminist, post-national, environmental critiques, stressing how contemporary citizenship practices have departed from the norms.

  • Kymlicka, Will, and Wayne Norman. “Return of the Citizen: A Survey of Recent Work on Citizenship Theory.” Ethics 104.2 (1994): 352–381.

    DOI: 10.1086/293605

    A preliminary conceptual guide to thinking about democratic citizenship. Distinguishes between, in the authors’ words, “citizenship-as-legal-status” and “citizenship-as-desirable-activity.”

  • Leydet, Dominique. “Citizenship.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Standford University, 2017.

    An introductory overview. Addresses key citizenship issues and debates.

  • Magnette, Paul. Citizenship: The History of an Idea. Brussels: European Consortium for Political Research, 2005.

    Written by a Belgian politician and political scientist, this traces the main intellectual contours of citizenship theory since World War II.

  • Walzer, Michael. “Citizenship.” In Political Innovation and Conceptual Change. Edited by Terence Ball, James Farr, and Russell L. Hanson, 211–219. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

    Distinguishes between citizenship generally and democratic citizenship in particular.

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