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Citizenship is membership in a political community (originally a city or town but now usually a country) and carries with it rights to political participation; a person having such membership is a citizen. It is largely coterminous with nationality,[How to reference and link to summary or text] although it is possible to have a nationality without being a citizen (i.e., be legally subject to a state and entitled to its protection without having rights of political participation in it); it is also possible to have political rights without being a national of a state. In most nations, a non-citizen is a non-national and called either a foreigner or an alien.

Citizenship, which is explained above, is the political rights of an individual within a society. Thus, you can have a citizenship from one country and be a national of another country. One example might be as follows: A Cuban-American might be considered a national of Cuba due to his being born there, but he could also become an American citizen through naturalization. Nationality most often derives from place of birth (i.e. jus soli) and, in some cases, ethnicity (i.e. jus sanguinis). Citizenship derives from a legal relationship with a state. Citizenship can be lost, as in denaturalization, and gained, as in naturalization.

The term Active Citizenship implies working towards the betterment of one's community through economic participation, public service, volunteer work, and other such efforts to improve life for all citizens. In this vein, schools in England provide lessons in citizenship.[1] In Wales the model used is Personal and Social Education.[2][3]

Supranational citizenship

In recent years, some intergovernmental organizations have extended the concept and terminology associated with citizenship to the international level, where it is applied to the totality of the citizens of their constituent countries combined. Two examples are given below, of citizenship in the European Union, and also of citizenship within the Commonwealth of Nations. Citizenship at this level is a secondary concept, with rights deriving from national citizenship.

European Union (EU) citizenship

Main article: Citizenship of the European Union

The Maastricht Treaty introduced the concept of citizenship of the European Union. Article 17 (1) of the amended EC Treaty[4] states that

Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship.

The amended EC Treaty[4] establishes certain minimal rights for EU citizens. Article 12 of the amended EC Treaty guarantees a general right of non-discrimination within the scope of the Treaty. Article 18 provides a limited right to free movement and residence in Member States other than that of which the EU citizen is a national. Articles 18-21 and 225 provide certain political rights.

Union citizens have also extensive rights to move in order to exercise economic activity in any of the Member States (Articles 39, 43, 49 EC), which predate the introduction of Union citizenship.

Commonwealth citizenship

The concept of "Commonwealth Citizenship" has been in place ever since the establishment of the Commonwealth of Nations. As with the EU, one holds Commonwealth citizenship only by being a citizen of a Commonwealth member state. This form of citizenship offers certain privileges within some Commonwealth countries:

  • Some such countries do not require tourist visas of citizens of other Commonwealth countries.
  • In some Commonwealth countries resident citizens of other Commonwealth countries are entitled to political rights, e.g., the right to vote in local and national elections and in some cases even the right to stand for election.
  • In some instances the right to work in any position (including the civil service) is granted, except for certain specific positions (e.g. defense, Governor-General or President, Prime Minister).

Whilst Commonwealth citizenship is sometimes enshrined in the written constitutions (where applicable) of Commonwealth states and is considered by some to be a form of multiple citizenship, there have never been, nor are there any plans for a common passport.

Although the Republic of Ireland left the Commonwealth in 1949, it is often treated as if it were a member, with references being made in legal documents to 'the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland', and its citizens are not classified as foreign nationals, particularly in the United Kingdom.

Canada departed from the principle of nationality being defined in terms of allegiance in 1921. In 1935 the Irish Free State was the first to introduce its own citizenship (However, Irish citizens were still treated as subjects of the Crown, and they are still not regarded as foreign, even though Ireland is not a member of the Commonwealth; Murray v Parkes [1942] All ER 123).

The Canadian Citizenship Act which came into effect on January 1, 1947 provided for a distinct Canadian Citizenship, automatically conferred upon most individuals born in Canada (with certain exceptions) and defined the conditions under which one could become a naturalized citizen. The concept of Commonwealth citizenship was introduced in 1948 in the British Nationality Act 1948. Other Dominions adopted this principle, in New Zealand, in the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948. Citizenship has replaced allegiance, a more than symbolic change.


The philosopher Karl Marx's 1874 British citizenship document. (Public Record Office).

Subnational citizenship

Citizenship most usually relates to membership of the nation state, but the term can also apply at subnational level. Subnational entities may impose requirements, of residency or otherwise, which permit citizens to participate in the political life of that entity, or to enjoy benefits provided by the government of that entity. But in such cases, those eligible are also sometimes seen as "citizens" of the relevant state, province, or region. An example of this is how the fundamental basis of Swiss citizenship is citizenship of an individual commune, from which follows citizenship of a canton and of the Confederation.

Honorary citizenship

Some countries extend "honorary citizenship" to those whom they consider to be especially admirable or worthy of the distinction.

By act of United States Congress and presidential assent, honorary United States citizenship has been awarded to only six individuals.

Honorary Canadian citizenship requires the unanimous approval of Parliament. The only people to ever receive honorary Canadian citizenship are Raoul Wallenberg posthumously in 1985, Nelson Mandela in 2001, the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso in 2006, and Aung San Suu Kyi in 2007.

In 2002 South Korea awarded honorary citizenship to Dutch football (soccer) coach Guus Hiddink who successfully and unexpectedly took the national team to the semi-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Honorary citizenship was also awarded to Hines Ward, a black Korean American football player, in 2006 for his efforts to minimize discrimination in Korea against half-Koreans.

American actress Angelina Jolie received an honorary Cambodian citizenship in 2005 due to her humanitarian efforts.

Cricketers Matthew Hayden and Herschelle Gibbs were awarded honorary citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis in March 2007 due to their record-breaking innings' in the 2007 Cricket World Cup.

In Germany the honorary citizenship is awarded by cities, towns and sometimes federal states. The honorary citizenship ends with the death of the honored, or, in exceptional cases, when it is taken away by the council or parliament of the city, town or state. In the case of the of war criminals all such honors were taken away by "Article VIII, section II, letter i of the directive 38 of the Allied Control Council for Germany" on October 12, 1946. In some cases, honorary citizenship was taken away from members of the former GDR regime, e.g. Erich Honecker, after the collapse of the GDR in 1989/90.

Historical citizenship

Historically, many states limited citizenship to only a proportion of their population, thereby creating a citizen class with political rights superior to other sections of the population, but equal with each other. The classical example of a limited citizenry was Athens where slaves, women, and resident foreigners (called metics) were excluded from political rights. The Roman Republic forms another example (see Roman citizenship), and, more recently, the nobility of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had some of the same characteristics.

Polis citizenship

Main article: Polis

The first form of citizenship was based on the way people lived in the ancient Greek times, in small-scale organic communities of the polis. In those days citizenship was not seen as a public matter, separated from the private life of the individual person. The obligations of citizenship were deeply connected into one’s everyday life in the polis. To be truly human, one had to be an active citizen to the community, which Aristotle famously expressed: “To take no part in the running of the community's affairs is to be either a beast or a god!” This form of citizenship was based on obligations of citizens towards the community, rather than rights given to the citizens of the community. This was not a problem because they all had a strong affinity with the polis; their own destiny and the destiny of the community were strongly linked. Also, citizens of the polis saw obligations to the community as an opportunity to be virtuous, it was a source of honour and respect. In Athens, citizens were both ruler and ruled, important political and judicial offices were rotated and all citizens had the right to speak and vote in the political assembly.

However, an important aspect of polis citizenship was exclusivity. Citizenship in ancient Greece and Rome, as well as Medieval cities that practiced polis citizenship, was exclusive and inequality of status was widely accepted. Citizens had a much higher status than non-citizens: Women, slaves or ‘barbarians’. For example, women were seen to be irration and incapable of political participation (although some, most notably Plato, disagreed). Methods used to determine whether someone could be a citizen or not could be based on wealth (the amount of taxes one paid), political participation, or heritage (both parents had to be born in the polis).

In the Roman Empire, polis citizenship changed form: Citizenship was expanded from small scale communities to the entire empire. Romans realised that granting citizenship to people from all over the empire legitimised Roman rule over conquered areas. They also found that taxes were more easily collected and the need for expensive military power in those areas with citizenship was reduced. Citizenship in the Roman era was no longer a status of political agency; it had been reduced to a judicial safeguard and the expression of rule and law.

School subject

In 2002, Citizenship was introduced as a compulsory subject of the National Curriculum in all English state schools. Some state schools offer an examination in this subject, all state schools have a statutory requirement to report student's progress in Citizenship.[1]

Citizenship is not offered as a normal GCSE course in many schools. Only some schools offer this subject as a GCSE course, and this is usually not a compulsary subject. Some schools may even give students an option, whether to study Citizenship or not at GCSE. All 14-16 year-olds MUST study Citizenship, but there are no exams, few assessments and is quite a different subject.

Citizenship is not taught as a subject in Scottish schools, however they do teach a subject called "Modern Studies" which covers the social, political and economic study of local, national and international issues.[5]

Responsibilities of citizenship

The legally enforceable duties of citizenship vary depending on one's country, and may include such items as:[6]

  • paying taxes (although tourists and illegal aliens also pay some taxes such as sales taxes,etc)
  • serving in the country's armed forces when called upon (in the US even illegal immigrants must serve in case of a draft[7]).
  • obeying the criminal laws enacted by one's government, even while abroad.

Purely ethical and moral duties tend to include:

  • demonstrating commitment and loyalty to the democratic political community and state
  • constructively criticizing the conditions of political and civic life
  • participating to improve the quality of political and civic life
  • respecting the rights of others
  • defending one's own rights and the rights of others against those who would abuse them
  • exercising one's rights


  • Carens, Joseph (2000). Culture, Citizenship, and Community: A Contextual Exploration of Justice as Evenhandedness, Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198297680.
  • Heater, Derek (2004). A Brief History of Citizenship, NYU Press. ISBN 978-0814736722.
  • Kymlicka, Will (1995). Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198290919.
  • Maas, Willem (2007). Creating European Citizens, Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0742554863.
  • Marshall, T.H. (1950). Citizenship and Social Class and Other Essays, Cambridge University Press.
  • Smith, Rogers (2003). Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Membership, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521520034.
  • Turner, Bryan S. (1994). Citizenship and Social Theory, Sage. ISBN 978-0803986114.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Citizenship; the national curriculum for England. British Government, Department for Children, Schools and Families. URL accessed on 2007-08-09.
  2. NAFWC 13/2003 Personal and Social Education (PSE) and Work-Related Education (WRE) in the Basic Curriculum. Education (WRE) in the Basic Curriculum.. Welsh Assembly Government. URL accessed on 2007-06-09.
  3. Personal and Social Education Framework: Key Stages 1 to 4 in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government. URL accessed on 2007-06-09.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Treaty of Rome (consolidated version)
  5. Modern Studies Association. URL accessed on 2007-08-09.
  6. Patrick, John J. The Concept of Citizenship in Education for Democracy. URL accessed on 2007-08-09.
  7. Who must register?. Selective Service System of the United States. URL accessed on 2007-08-21.

External links

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