Skip to content

Toggle service links

The Good Citizen

The Good Citizen was a Research Seminar Series funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-451-25-4039).
December 2005 - March 2008

Despite the fact that the general topic of citizenship is all around us, the notion of the good citizen is rarely explored. This is because the research focus has been on just one aspect of the increasing rates of movement around the world: the live debate about immigration. This has prompted plenty of work on the issues in citizenship that bear directly on the immigration question: citizenship rights and entitlements, and the qualifications for membership of the citizen body that trigger access to rights and entitlements. But what is the relationship of movement itself to good citizenship? What are the arenas in which good citizenship can be displayed? What do we need to know to be good citizens? How do we research good citizenship? These are the headline questions that our seminar series has tried to answer.

The liberal tradition is not as accustomed as its republican counterpart (which itself draws on the theory and practice of citizenship in ancient Greece) to thinking in terms of good citizenship. This is because – to draw a rough-and-ready distinction - liberal citizenship is about rights and entitlements while republican citizenship focuses on obligations and responsibilities. The prescriptive language of the good citizenship appears more appropriate for obligations and responsibilities (what should the citizen do?) than it is for the realm of rights and entitlements.

But there has always been a tension in this rough-and-ready distinction, and recent developments in the citizenship debate have revealed the extent to which apparently technical and descriptive questions relating to membership of the citizen body carry a prescriptive load that must be read as an articulation of ‘good citizenship’. Consider the example of the UK’s relatively new ‘citizenship ceremony’, where the descriptive list of criteria for membership of the citizen body is also a series of prescriptions for good citizenship. Critically, these prescriptions raise important questions of legitimacy. Where did these notions of good citizenship come from? How valid are they? What others are available? Long term acceptability of the prescriptive content of such ceremonies would seem to depend on a clearer and critical understanding of what good citizenship might entail.

We believe that the time is ripe for an exploration of this ‘hidden face’ of contemporary citizenship, both in terms of an excavation of extant examples of prescription, such as that described in the previous paragraph, and in terms of thematic areas of social life where the debate regarding good citizenship is especially vibrant and suggestive.

Principal Investigator: Prof Michael Saward
Co-Investigators: Dr Anja Schaefer

Learn more about the research programme: Publics