In This Article 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
Rick Valelly
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • 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 citizenship, increasingly common in a globalized world. Wherever it occurs, 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 do 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. 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 and Magnette 2005 provide short surveys of the idea of citizenship. In contrast, Christiano 2008 allows for exploration among related topics. Kymlicka and Norman 1994, Walzer 1989, and Zvesper 2007 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.

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    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. 2008.

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    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.”

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

    DOI: 10.1086/293605E-mail Citation »

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

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

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    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.

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    Distinguishes between citizenship generally and democratic citizenship in particular.

  • Zvesper, John. “Liberal Democratic Citizenship.” Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy. 6 September 2007.

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    Written from a neoconservative perspective in that it attacks multicultural views of democratic citizenship. Summarizes the multicultural approach, surveys a range of ancient and modern political philosophers, shows that discussions by Plato and Aristotle are useful to modern debate about democratic citizenship, and connects liberal democratic citizenship to military service and patriotism.

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