What are the definitions of formal citizenship, substantive citizenship, and insurgent citizenship? Why are these distinctions important? How is citizenship “continually constituted and...

What are the definitions of formal citizenship, substantive citizenship, and insurgent citizenship? Why are these distinctions important? How is citizenship “continually constituted and challenged through political struggle”? Why are immigrants entitled to full civil, political, and social rights, including higher education?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Citizenship refers to a person's legally binding "sworn loyalty" to a country. Loyalty to a country can be pledged based on the country being the place of birth, the country being the place of one or both parents' birth, or based on an immigrant having undergone the naturalization process (Burton's Legal Thesaurus, 4th ed., "Citizen"). The US naturalization process for immigrants includes documentation, passing an English and civics test, and taking the oath of allegiance in a formal ceremony.

However, the naturalization process is not necessarily easily, and there will be some immigrants who have trouble gaining citizenship. Also, despite the legality of naturalization, there are still those who, sadly, resist the naturalization of immigrants; some members of society feel that some immigrants do not deserve citizenship.   

Due to those two difficulties, scholars have found it necessary to devise a means to distinguish between formal citizenship and substantive citizenship. The term formal citizenship refers to a person's actual legal citizenship. The term substantive citizenship refers to a person's granted power to be able to actually enjoy the rights of citizenship, especially through voting. Do to xenophobia and humanity's tendency to want to exploit other peoples', there is a history across the US and Europe of denying ethnic groups their right to be full citizens. The US can point to the Southern states' denial of African Americans the right to vote and their employment of segregation laws as two examples of denying legal citizens their full rights to citizenship.

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