What follows is a few excerpts from the essays and exams I wrote as part of the 'Citizenship, Civil Society and Social Movements' module I took during the second year of my undergraduate geography course. Towards the end of the year, I caught up on a lot of reading and I found the concepts slotted together in rather satisfiying ways. My outlook on the module is also helped by the fact I got a first in it. Below you will find three excerpts, all of which I'm quite happy with.
Why is Citizenship Urban?
Mitchell (1997), in examining urban anti-homeless laws, provides an example of how this differentiated citizenship can be enforced by varyingly scaled actors who are brought together through the city. Mitchell (1997: 303-305 ) explains that Capital, unshackled from the constraints of space by globalisation and technology, swirls around the globe “like a plague of locusts” in search of places of better comparative advantage. Municipal officials, property owners and businesses are then described as “prostrating themselves” before Capital, not only enacting neoliberal financial reforms (in the form of tax and regulation cuts) but also reshaping the urban fabric to produce an attractive facade of efficiency: a “reinvestment in place...and of imagery”. While this may involve “public investment in such amenities as museums, theatres and concert halls”, it also constitutes the purging of the homeless in what Mitchell calls ‘annihilation of space by law’: the implementation of legislation that directly and indirectly (by redefining acceptable behaviour in public space) outlaws the presence of the homeless, working as a “legal remedy” to remove the “left-behind” of the market, “erasing the spaces in which they must live”. In this example, we can draw on Davis’ (2016) understanding of assemblage theory to see how the hyper-mobile business class, municipal-level stakeholders (city officials and business owners) and individual citizens employed as police and security guards all exist as a flexible ‘assemblage’ of actors, operating on a variety of scales to reinforce a particular view of citizenship. Neoliberal ideology not only formulates the homeless as a ‘constitutive outside’ to citizenship that threatens the precarious and impoverished with destitution, it does so through neoliberal methods, privatising the enforcement of citizenship and distributing it to private actors: the city becomes a dense “archipelago of territorialised sites”, ranging from gentrified streets and boulevards to brightly-lit parks and plazas, from which the homeless are expelled by police and private security guards (Walsh, 2014: 240; Davis, 2016: 119). To summarise, in Mitchell’s (1997) “annihilation of space by law” we can see how legislation has enabled the ‘homo sacer’ of the homeless (“included in the juridical order solely in the form of its exclusion”; Ammore, 2006; Agamben, 1995: 4) to be persecuted by a varied assemblage of actors that have been brought together by the city.
Can civil society ever be distinct from the state?
In drawing a definition of civil society, Radcliffe (2004: 519) starts with arguably “the most influential writer in the field”; Robert Putnam. Putnam’s work focuses on the notion of ‘civil associations’ (relationships between individuals that exist outside of state operations), taking a Toquevillian stance that these associations are essentially positive and generate ‘social capital’; these “win-win ties” act as connections that bind communities together and foster the “networks and norms of civic engagement” that at local and regional scales serve to reinforce human capital and democracy (Putnam, 1993: 106). These ‘civic associations’ can take many forms, a fact admitted by Alvarez, Dagnino & Escobar (1998: 17), who describe how civil society can be designated as widely as “everything that is not the state or the market” or as specifically as “organised and purposive associational life aimed at the expression of societal interests”, a label which would apply best to social movements and trade unions. In other words, civil society is a “gas, expanding or contracting to fit the analytic space afforded it” (Foley & Edwards, 1996: 42). This essay will use the framework of Foley & Edwards (1996: 39) to draw a distinction and pin down a secure definition. Foley & Edwards suggest that civil society is a two-sided concept: ‘Civil Society I’ refers to the Toquevillian “family of arguments” that emphasise the civility fostered by non-state “associational life in general”, whereas ‘Civil Society II’ emphasises the importance of “civil society as a sphere of action that is independent of the state and that is capable - precisely for this reason - of energizing resistance” to the state. Moving on, I will focus on the role of Civil Society II as a “counterweight” to potentially “tyrannical” citizenship regimes.
What is the difference between citizenship being learnt or demanded?
Isin (2002: 2) argues that Marshall’s “timeless” image of a progression of citizenship conceals the “intense struggles, conflicts, and violence” that have occured in the historic fight to wrest the rights of citizenship “from dominant groups, which have never surrendered them without struggle”. Indeed, Isin suggests that “twentieth century social and political thought often focused on the consequent images of citizenship”, to the detriment of the “social struggles” that yielded them. This understanding can somewhat contextualise the beliefs of Marshall (1950). Marshall wrote his 1950 essay ‘Citizenship and Social Class” in the aftermath of WW2 in Britain, where a “social citizenship” had begun to emerge through national institutions such as the National Health Service, founded in 1948. It is important here to briefly discuss Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the ‘social contract’: Rousseau wrote in 1762 (: 368) that the “general will alone can direct the forces of the State”, there existing a ‘social contract’ between the administrative powers of the state and the people it manages that “there can be no legitimate political society without orientation to the common good or common interest” (Williams, 2014: 65). British post-war ‘social citizenship’ can be understood through this lens: as a transaction to support this ‘social contract’, compensating an increasingly politicised public that had suffered during wartime. This “skeletal structure” of “old-age pensions” and “unemployment insurance”, for Marshall, “upheld a far more important element of social citizenship: solving some of the inherent contradictions between capitalism and democracy” (Marston & Mitchell, 2004: 99). The evolution of citizenship over time, Marshall believed, “could contain the divisive effects of class conflict through its relief” of civil, political, and social concerns. However, by taking the initiative to concede an expanded citizenship to ‘the people’, the state is offered the upper-hand in defining what this citizenship is: I borrow here from Escobar (2008: 134) and Foucault’s (1986) concept of ‘problematisation’ to suggest that when allowed, the state is capable of ‘fixing’ the meaning of citizenship, setting into place the “essential traits'' of citizens as “self evident and universal truths”. Frazer (2007: 63) highlights the concern that mandatory citizenship education in UK schools effectively ‘depoliticises’ citizenship by downplaying and obscuring the possibilities inherent to “democratic participation” and even the revocable quality of the social contract. Similarly, Bookchin (1995: 1) highlighted the redrawing of the bounds of citizenship by neoliberal governments, decrying a stripping back of a “conception of selfhood that could reach beyond the thoroughly mundane and passive sense of human beings as ‘taxpayers, ‘constituents’ or ‘electorates’” (White, 2008):“the contemporary liberal concept of citizenship” seeming to be that “a ‘constituent’ is best when he or she acts the least” (Bookchin, 1987: 9).
A major critique of Marshall’s sequential progression of citizenship rights is his neglect of subaltern groups and the Global South. Holston (2009: 245) explains how our current era of “unprecedented global urbanisation...and democratisation” has generated remarkable levels of inequality, explaining that “most city people live in impoverished urban peripheries in various conditions of illegal and irregular residence”. In the case of the South, the state has not descended ‘from up on high’ to provide this ‘political society’ with rights and social welfare (Chatterjee, 2004). Instead, these peripheries are excluded, relegated to the status of mere subjects to be managed, with urban centres specifically organised to “benefit from their services and their property” (Holston, 2009: 246). It therefore becomes the role of the impoverished and excluded to ‘demand’ citizenship for themselves: Holston states that it is “precisely in these peripheries” that “residents organise movements of insurgent citizenship to confront the entrenched regimes of citizen inequality that the urban centers use to segregate them”, the “structures of inequality” codified by their ‘differential citizenships’ (Román, 2010) inciting “these hinterland residents to imagine a life worthy of citizens”. To evidence this, I use the example of the Edificio São Manoel in Rua Marconi, São Paulo (De Carli & Frediani, 2016). Originally an office building constructed in the 1930s, the structure is known now as Ocupação Marconi, after it was occupied by the housing movement Movimento de Moradia para Todos (MMPT) in 2012. By 2016, the building housed around 450 individuals. De Carli & Frediani detail the building's functions: Ocupação Marconi hosts not just Salão Marighella, a hall where weekly meetings are held between residents, but shared toilet facilities, a communal kitchen, a nursery, and a laundry room. It is in small interaction between residents, De Carli & Frediani (2016: 341) explain, that the building holds value: these hallways, staircases and toilets are “where diverse stories and experiences of exclusion and marginalization coexist and interweave”. Ocupação Marconi becomes not just “an instrument and a personal resource” that can transform the lives of the urban impoverished, but a place where, through the encountering of “these diverse selves and their respective drives for change”, “new collective meanings and moments of political becoming” can be found. We can see how through the urban context of impoverishment and inequality, spaces can be cultivated where plural understandings of citizenship may arise and be promoted from. McFarlane (2010) recalls Le Corbusier’s in his declaration of “the city as a machine for learning”: what McFarlane means by this is that the city, through its existence as a ‘knot’ in space that draws together different scales, experiences and social collections (Amin & Thrift, 2017), can promote the process of ‘learning’: “a political and practical domain through which the city is assembled, lived and contested” (McFarlane, 2010: 360). In the city, the ‘ordinariness’ of citizenship (Staeheli et al, 2012), which is “practised and experienced as people move through their daily lives”, can be exposed, allowing these “subjugated citizens” to become insurgents and declaring their own aspirational conceptualisations of what citizenship could be.