Geography Citizenship
E.L.E. Ho
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0089


Citizenship is popularly seen as a concept and practice anchored in a national territory that has been ascribed sovereignty status. Citizenship further defines membership to the nation-state. In this way citizenship confers legal status but is also defined in terms of political and social inclusion. Citizenship further functions as a social compact between citizens and the state such that citizens assign to the state the authority to govern. In turn, citizens obey the rules set out by the state and are entitled to rights. Scholars have approached the study of citizenship and state–society relations in a variety of ways. As a concept and in practice, citizenship is influenced by distinctive historical, philosophical, and cultural traditions. This multiplicity of citizenship also signals it can be contested by different groups in society, further driving the evolution of citizenship over space and time. This article introduces readers to the multiple approaches adopted toward the study of citizenship; the distinct historical contexts and interpretations of citizenship found in different parts of the world; the relationship between citizenship and geography; the components of identity, rights, and responsibilities contained within citizenship; recognition and redistribution debates engendered by citizenship politics; and the transformations happening to national citizenship in the context of transnational and subnational developments.

General Overviews

Depending on disciplinary backgrounds, scholars approach citizenship studies with distinct emphases. This is illustrated in Faulks 2000 and Isin and Turner 2002, which address the foundational influences of citizenship and the different approaches scholars adopt to study citizenship. Some scholars analyze citizenship normatively as a political philosophy or legal status (e.g., Bauböck 1994, cited under Citizenship Transformations; Linklater 1998, cited under Identity, Rights, and Responsibilities). Other critical studies of citizenship draw attention to the practices of citizenship, such as how communal duties are accepted and performed by citizens but also present the potential for contesting citizenship, as argued in Benhabib 2004 (also see Young 1989, cited under Identity, Rights, and Responsibilities; Lister 2003 cited under Identity, Rights, and Responsibilities). According to Isin 2008, however, practices should be distinguished from acts of citizenship, the latter referring to the enactment of citizenship or how subjects become claimants for rights. Building on such scholarship, Ho 2009 proposes a related but distinct approach that draws attention to how citizenship is constructed through emotional representations and subjectivities that constitute citizenship meanings for its subjects. This attentiveness to the emotions is part of broader efforts to “ground” the experiential elements of citizenship. Staeheli, et al. 2012 later introduced the concept of “ordinary citizenship” to highlight the mundane aspects of citizenship that are entwined with complex relationships and practices ordering the lives of citizens. The authors further argue that the ordinariness of citizenship stands to be mobilized by marginalized persons as a tool for political change. The variety of approaches described above draw out the multidimensional ways in which citizenship as political status, social structure, and social relations is experienced and negotiated by individuals and social groups.

  • Benhabib, Seyla. The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents and Citizens. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511790799

    This book comprises five substantive essays that draw on the intellectual traditions of political theorists such as Immanuel Kant, Hannah Arendt, and John Rawls. These essays debate not only the nature and mechanisms by which citizenship rights should be allocated but also the loss of such rights among stateless populations.

  • Faulks, Keith. Citizenship: Key Ideas. New York: Routledge, 2000.

    This book provides an accessible introduction to the classical theories that shape liberal approaches toward citizenship and the critiques presented by Marxism, communitarianism, and feminism. The book also interrogates the merit of emphasizing group rights, the impact of globalization, and the balance between rights and responsibilities associated with citizenship.

  • Ho, Elaine Lynn-Ee. “Constituting Citizenship Through the Emotions: Singaporean Transmigrants in London.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 99.4 (2009): 788–804.

    DOI: 10.1080/00045600903102857

    This article proposes the concept of emotional citizenship to underline the emotional logics that shape the social structure and social relations comprising citizenship. The analysis draws out ordinarily experienced emotions that contribute to how citizenship is appraised by migrants and their ensuing social behaviors generating the politics of citizenship.

  • Isin, Engin Fahri. “Acts of Citizenship.” In Acts of Citizenship. Edited by Engin Fahri Isin and Gregory Nielson, 1–14. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

    This editorial introduction distinguishes between citizenship as practice and acts of citizenship. The former refers to the routinized ways through which citizenship is reproduced whereas the latter refers to how subjects become citizens or differentiate themselves from noncitizens. The book consists of eleven essays and shorter interventions examining acts of citizenship.

  • Isin, Engin Fahri, and Bryan Stanley Turner, eds. Handbook of Citizenship Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2002.

    This edited volume provides a useful overview of citizenship studies. Part 1 identifies the foundations of citizenship, followed by its historical evolution in Part 2 and approaches toward studying citizenship in Part 3. Part 4 focuses on citizenship struggles by different social groups and citizenship beyond national borders.

  • Shafir, Gershon, ed. Citizenship Debates: A Reader. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1998.

    The introductory chapter by Shafir captures the essence of key political traditions that have influenced approaches toward citizenship, such as liberalism, communitarianism, and social democracy. The chapter also highlights the evolution of citizenship theories in response to trends of immigration, multiculturalism, feminism, and multiple citizenships. These themes form the framework for the chapters in the edited volume.

  • Staeheli, Lynn, Patricia Ehrkamp, Helga Leitner, and Caroline R. Nagel. “Dreaming the Ordinary: Daily Life and the Complex Geographies of Citizenship.” Progress in Human Geography 36.5 (2012): 628–644.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132511435001

    This article considers how individuals and groups encounter legal frameworks and social order on a routine basis. The perceived ordinariness of citizenship masks subjugating relationships and practices. The authors highlight the potential of the everyday and the spatial frameworks through which resources and values can be mobilized for democratic citizenship struggles.

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