G. Badakhshani

Democratic citizenship


Free University Amsterdam
Faculty of social science
Department of Political Science
G. Badakhshani

Democratic citizenship, recognition and distribution of goods between citizens introduce the most skeptical questions that democracies are facing. In this essay I will focus on one element of the notions above, that is democratic citizenship. The question posed is, what is democratic citizenship? In order to answer this question I have chosen for two significant figures on this debate; Nancy Fraser and T.H. Marshall.

The above question will be divided into two parts. First, what is citizenship; and second, what makes citizenship democratic? And since democratic citizenship also contains the equality between the citizens, I will examine what dilemma’s are there which undermine this equality. In other words, to answer the question; what is democratic citizenship, I will try to answer what processes or dilemmas undermine democratic citizenship. But first a brief explanation of citizenship itself.

What is citizenship?
Scholars like Marshall have divided citizenship into three parts or elements, as he puts it; “civil, political and social”( Marshall, 1950: 8).
Civil citizenship is basically the liberal principals and basics of the individual freedom, which exist of the “rights necessary for individual freedom-liberty of person, freedom of speech, thought and faith, and the right to justice”(Marshall, 1950: 8).  The last element of the above mentioned rights is not directly involved in the individual degree of freedom, but it surely grantees the protection of the individuals in relation to each other in terms of social equality.

The second element; political citizenship, allows or enables citizen to participate in the processes of agenda-setting and decision-making, which are equal to the “right to participate in the exercise of political power, as a member of a body invested with political authority or as an elector of the members of such a body”( Marshall, 1950: 8).

Third element; social citizenship, refers to a “whole range from the right to a modicum of economic welfare and security to the right to share at the full in the social heritage and to live the life of a civilized being according to the standards prevailing in the society”( Marshall, 1950: 8). Which means, all rights from the limited access to the educational system, social facilities and services to the full access to the social system.

Altogether, considering the above described elements, citizenship is the involvement of citizens in the social, economical and political scope in a given society and the rights that give them access to those scopes. In other words one can only speak of citizenship in terms of citizen rights, regulations and law which protect and compel citizens to act accordingly and appropriate to the law. This protection is embodied in the institutions like, “court of justice, parliament and council of local government”(Marshall, 1095: 8 – 12). Now with an overview of what citizenship is, the move towards an explanation of what makes this citizenship democratic can be made.

What  makes citizenship democratic?
As mentioned in the introduction, this question will be answered by examining dilemmas and obstacles which threaten democratic citizenship. “The struggle for recognition is fast becoming the paradigmatic form of political conflict in the late twentieth century”(Fraser, 1995: 68).

The quest for cultural recognition which has its roots in the “material inequality, in income and property ownership”(Fraser, 1995: 68), is one of the dilemmas that threaten democratic citizenship. A second threat to the democratic citizenship will be the socioeconomic redistribution. But before answering the question as to why the dilemmas of recognition and socioeconomic redistributions form threats  to the democratic citizenship, an explanation of both notions is needed.

Recognition dilemmas
Recognition dilemmas are rooted in the “social patterns of representation, interpretation and communication”(Fraser, 1995: 71). This includes cultural confrontation or clashing values of different cultures. Furthermore Fraser associates recognition dilemmas with cultural injustice, by which he means the cultural domination of a group over another. Cultural injustice includes, “cultural domination; being subjected to patterns of interpretation and communication that are associated with another culture and are alien and/or hostile to one’s own. Non-recognition; being rendered invisible via the authoritative representational, communicative, and interpretative of one’s culture and being disrespected”(Fraser, 1995: 71).

Re-distributive dilemmas
Redistribution dilemmas on the other hand are rooted in the economic and political structure of a society. This is to say the limited access of a group of citizens against a group of citizens who have a greater degree of freedom in their socio-economical choices. Exploitation can be one of the forms of redistribution dilemmas. That is to say, “having the fruits of one’s labor appropriated for the benefit of others and being confined to undesirable or poorly paid work or being denied access to income-generating labor, which has become to be known as the economic marginalization”(Fraser, 1995: 71). Furthermore Fraser associates this notion with the economical injustice, which is not of importance to this paper and for that reason, it would not be elaborated.

In the first part of this paper, one of the theories of citizenship is elaborated. It has become obvious that the explained elements of citizenship from social to political emphasize the involvement of citizen in socioeconomic and political aspects of the society. It has also become clear that, in order to improve and obtain these citizen rights, which grantee the degree of freedom of citizens in their participation in society, as well as their obligations, different institutions like, “court of justice, parliament and council of local government”(Marshall, 1095: 8 – 12), must be created.

In the second part of the paper, we endeavored to find out which social and political dilemmas there are. One can of course question the relevance of these dilemmas  to the democratic citizenship. What do recognition and re-distributive dilemmas have to do with the democratic degree of citizenship?

As mentioned earlier the recognition dilemmas are rooted in the social patterns of a given society. The reason why this dilemmas can constrain and/or undermine democratic citizenship is because “non-recognition or misrecognition (…) can be a form of oppression, imprisoning an individual or a group of individuals in a false, distorted, reduced mode of being. Beyond simple lack of respect, it can inflict a grievous wound, saddling people with crippling self-hatred. Due recognition is not just a courtesy but a vital human need” (Tyler in, Fraser, 1995: 71). And since the civil element of citizenship is based on the “freedom-liberty of person, freedom of speech, thought and faith, and the right to justice”(Marshall, 1950: 8), recognition dilemmas form a great threat for the democratic degree of citizenship.

A second threat to the democratic citizenship is socioeconomic injustice. “Culture norms that are unfairly biased against some are institutionalized in the state and the economy; meanwhile, economic disadvantages impede participation in the making of culture, in public spheres and in everyday life”( Fraser, 1995: 73). This element of socioeconomic injustice is contradictory to the second element of citizenship, which is political.  And because political citizenship is based on the participation of citizens in the process of decision-making and agenda setting, redistributive dilemmas come to undermined or at least constrain the democratic degree of citizenship.

However, the recognition and redistributive dilemmas have  their impact on the social element of citizenship as well. In other words, “we owe our integrity (...) to the receipt of approval or recognition from other persons. Negative concepts such as ‘insult’ or degradation are related to forms of disrespect, to the denial of recognition. They are used to characterize a form of behavior that does not represent an injustice solely because it constrains the subjects in their freedom for action or does them harm. Rather, such behavior is injurious because it impairs these persons in their positive understanding of self and understanding acquired by intersubjective means”( Fraser, 1995: 72).

It was already obvious that one can only speak of citizenship in terms of citizen rights. That is at least the conclusion that one can draw from Marshall’s theory of citizenship. The different elements of citizenship which represent a different scope of individual degree of freedom are the ground to draw this conclusion. Hence democratic citizenship is a whole range of rights and obligations that a citizen  has,  in order to take part in the socioeconomic and political processes. Furthermore, the political element of citizenship in Marshall’s theory is about the participation of citizens in the process of decision making and agenda setting. Therefore democratic citizenship is also the ability of citizens to participate in those processes. But of course democratic citizenship is not self-evident and therefore, the existence of institutions which grantee and control the  use and misuse of these freedoms, is a necessity. As last but not least, democratic citizenship is only possible if the recognition and redistribution dilemmas are taken into account and the necessary remedies are found and implemented.


Fraser, Nancy (1995), ‘From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a “Post-Socialist “Age’, New Left Review I/212, Jul-August.

Marshall, T.H and Tom Bottomore (1992) CITIZENSHIP AND SOCIAL CLASS. London: Pluto Press.

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