According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term "citizenship" first appeared in 1611 and is comprised of the noun "citizen" and the suffix "-ship" (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012, n.p). The OED locates the etymological roots of "citizen" to Middle English ca. 1330, and "citizen" is defined as "an inhabitant of a city or (often) of a town; esp. one possessing civic rights and privileges; a burgess or freeman of a city" (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012, n.p.). The suffix "-ship" may be traced back to 15th century Old English and is meant to indicate that the root word belongs to a certain "state or condition" (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012, n.p.). The term "citizenship," therefore, is defined by the OED as "the position or status of being a citizen, with its rights and privileges" (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012, n.p.).

Disciplines that often use or theorize the term "citizenship" include but are not limited to: political science and political studies, sociology, philosophy, legal studies, education studies, critical and cultural studies, women's studies, and communication studies.

Historical Transformations of Citizenship

Scholars generally identify the following historical periods as significant to the transformation of “citizenship”:
  • Classical
    • Though the OED recognizes the first usage of “citizenship” as occurring in 1611 to indicate “the freedome of a Citie” (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012, n.p.), discussions about citizenship extend back to the Ancient Greeks, for whom citizenship meant both “the means as well as the state or condition of freedom” (Roy, 2008, p. 132). In Politics, Aristotle described a citizen as “He who has the power to take part in the deliberative or judicial administration of any state is said by us to be a citizen of that state” (p. 69). As Roy (2008) notes, this conception of citizenship is problematic because it “was limited to those having the capacity to participate in the process of governance,” which meant only the “free native-born men” could engage with the political functions of public life, leaving “women, children, slaves and resident aliens” without freedom (p. 133). As Romans came to power, citizenship developed a legal connotation as “a legal status involving certain rights and equal protection of the law” (Roy, p. 134).
  • Middle Ages
    • According to Heater (2004), medieval conceptions of citizenship were rooted “in the small-scale municipal or city-state contexts” (p. 58). Citizenship was also discussed in relation to religion, particularly Christianity. For some, the idea of citizenship was more sacred than secular. As Turner (2005) notes, early Christianity “separated membership of secular society from citizenship of heaven” (p. 29). According to both Turner and the OED, religious leaders would speak of “citizenship in heaven” (OED, 2012, n.p. ; Turner, p. 29). Thus, citizenship was denoted by context, both within small-scale townships and beyond the material world.
  • 18th Century Revolutions
    • Political uprisings of the late 18th century stimulated a transformation in citizenship. Rather than referring to cities and towns, the concept came to be used within the context of national collectivities (Heater, 2004). The French Revolution issued challenges to the “bourgeois” notion of citizenship, which privileged the aristocracy (see Isin, 2002, p. 192). For French workers, citizenship meant possessing an economic identity, as well as “social rights to perform ‘work for the nation’” (Isin, p. 194). In the early American republic, the shift from subject to citizen brought with it the assertion of a political identity in contrast to the status of “British subjecthood” (Bradburn, p. 37). During the revolutionary period, citizenship was tied to both duties and rights; the rights were seen as natural, as opposed to civil, and meant to provide citizens with rights “relating to liberty, pursuit of happiness” (Bradburn, p. 43). These rights, however, were not equally distributed (Bradburn, pp. 43-44).
  • Modern
    • Modern conceptions of citizenship arise following the 18th century revolutions when the association between citizenship and nation (sometimes nationalism) became pronounced (see Magnette, 2005). Bosniak (2006) notes that characteristics of citizenship from the Ancient World inform citizenship today; specifically, the “entitlement to, and enjoyment of, rights,” and citizenship as a legal condition, are principles that resonate with current notions of citizenship (p. 19). However, as legal scholar Roman (2010) notes, having equal civil rights within a national community may represent fantasy more than reality (p. 6). While many feel excluded from full citizenship status within a nation because of, but not limited to, race, gender, sexual orientation, and nationality, the struggle to achieve the legal rights in accordance with modern citizenship nevertheless remains (see Isin & Wood, 1999).

Citizenship and Communication Studies

Recent citizenship scholarship in the Communication discipline has focused on the role of digital media in cultivating both on- and off-line citizenly behaviors. For instance, in their analysis of online adolescent citizenship, Bennett et al. (2011) suggest that younger generations may be enacting citizenship in different ways and through different means. Rather than “taking cues as members of groups or out of regard for public authorities” (p. 839), the authors argue that young people are embracing “looser personal engagement with peer networks that pool (crowd source) information and organize civic action using social technologies that maximize individual expression” (p. 839). Similarly, Gil de Zuniga and Valenzuela (2011) question the role of networks in encouraging civic behaviors, like “raising money for charities” and “attending neighborhood meetings” (p. 399) as well as what types of communication contexts are more hospitable to such behaviors. Though citizenship within Communication studies is not always regarded as participating in political deliberation, the concept nevertheless retains significant import for participating in public life.

Citizenship and Rhetorical Studies

Within rhetorical studies, citizenship is often discussed in terms of its discursive and performative capacities. Robert Asen (2004) offers a discourse theory of citizenship in which he called for an examination of not what citizenship is, but how it is enacted in common, everyday ways (see p. 191). The attention to engagement, according to Asen, places less emphasis on state-sanctioned means of citizenship, thus broadening opportunities for individuals to exercise their civic potential (2004). Other rhetorical scholarship has concentrated on the relationship between gender and citizenship. Angela Ray (2007) examines how women during Reconstruction challenged the gendered norms of citizenship and argues that by going into public spaces and attempting to vote, women during this period performed a ritual of citizenship. In her analysis of women’s antislavery petitions during the mid-19th century, Susan Zaeske (2002) contends that women’s signatures on the petitions were not only a discursive performance of citizenship, but a constitutive rhetoric that asserted a civic identity. Citizenship, therefore, is both discursively constructed and performed to assert political agency.

Katie Irwin (August 2012).

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