How has geographers' approach to using citizenship as a tool to critique the inequalities of modern society influenced research, as opposed to studying citizenship as an object of inquiry by...

How has geographers' approach to using citizenship as a tool to critique the inequalities of modern society influenced research, as opposed to studying citizenship as an object of inquiry by itself? Are there problems with this focus?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It can be said that using citizenship as a tool to investigate and critique inequalities in modern society is certainly legitimate because citizenship is much more than just a mere legal title. The legal title grants you certain rights and privileges, such as the right to vote, the right to work, the right to be educated, among others. More importantly, if we see what rights and privileges citizenship grants, we can also see what rights and privileges are denied those who are excluded from citizenship. Hence, research into citizenship actually reveals a whole chain of sociocultural and sociopolitical "realities of social exclusion" (University of Leeds, "Citizenship & Belonging"). As author Evelyn Glenn phrases it, more specifically, the study of citizenship becomes a study of both equality and inequality. It is the study of equality because citizenship is supposed to grant certain rights to its members; it is the study of inequality because the title citizenship automatically draws lines of distinction between those who are entitled to the rights and those who are not entitled because they are categorized as "non-citizens" ("Citizenship and Inequality: Historical and Global Perspectives"). Exploring the issue of exclusion especially becomes important today due to globalization and the creation of global citizenship.

The advantage of using citizenship as just a tool to investigate inequality rather than studying it as a subject by itself is that inequality covers so many different social spheres, including "race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, age, religion, disability, national identity," and, lastly, actual "citizenship status" ("Citizenship & Belonging"). If we were to study only citizenship and all those other inequalities separately, not only would we make our research far too complex and far too broad, we would also fail to see the relationship between citizenship and those inequalities.  Looking at citizenship in the US as an example, we can even see the historic struggle to gain the rights of citizenship. For example, throughout history, "women, people of color, wage workers [etc.]" have fought to gain equal rights granted by US citizenship, such as all the rights listed above (Glenn, "Citizenship and Inequality"). Today, the struggle for citizenship not only continues but is becoming an important study as globalization leads to an increased number of democratic societies. As author Joan G. DeJaeghere of the University of Minnesota points out, democracy is really only surface level due to the amount of diversity within countries:

Democracy in diverse societies is fraught with the tension of upholding justice, equal rights, and the participation of all, while historical and present day practices of most democracies and the relationships between its members reveal inequality, discrimination, and exclusion. (Interamerican Journal of Education and Democracy, "Critical Citizenship Education for Multicultural Societies," p. 223)

Hence, the study of just citizenship alone as a tool to investigate inequality becomes an important means of figuring out how to eliminate inequality in diverse democratic countries. Further research problems would arise if geographers were not using citizenship as a research tool to investigate issues surrounding diversity and inequality that are connected to either citizenship or non-citizenship.

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