Global Citizenship – Towards a Definition

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Global Citizenship – Towards a Definition

Taso G. Lagos
Copyright protected under Taso G. Lagos. Permission to cite should be directed to the author.

Abstract: Global protest activity is on the rise. Demonstrations in Seattle in 1999, Genoa in 2001 and in dozens of other sites brought activists together from around the world and localized global issues in unprecedented ways. These and other activities suggest the possibility of an emerging global citizenry. Individuals from a wide variety of nations, both in the North and South, move across boundaries for different activities and reasons. This transnational activity is facilitated by the growing ease of travel and by communication fostered by the Internet and telephony. While it is hard to quantify these numbers, or to give global citizens a legally defined political status, these qualifications do not obviate the existence and influence of transnational activists seeking new institutional forms in an interdependent world. We examine global citizens as active political, social, environmental or economic agents in an interdependent world in which new institutional forms beyond nations are beginning to emerge. Introduction: By itself, citizenship has certain legal and democratic overtones. Conceptually, it is wrapped up in rights and obligations, and in owing allegiance to a sovereign state whose power is retained by the citizenry but with rights that are shared by all members of that state. We distinguish “citizen” from “national” or “subject,” the latter two implying protection of a state. Citizenship, as it has come down to us via the ancient Greeks and Romans, via the Enlightenment, and the American and French Revolutions, is tied into the emergence of members of a polity with specified privileges and duties. To speak of a

“citizen” is thus to speak of individuals with distinct relationships to the state, along with the social status and power these relationships imply. The lift the citizen concept into the global sphere presents difficulties, not least of which is that global citizens are not legal members in good standing with a sovereign state. More importantly, there are no recognizable privileges and duties associated with the concept that would envelop global citizenship with the status and power (in an ideal world) currently associated with national citizenship. Since modern nation-states are the repositories and main expression of citizenship, discussion of global citizenship necessarily dictates an existence outside the body politic as we know it. If we follow Preston’s (1997) model of citizenship (“who belongs to the polity, how the members of the polity in general are regarded and how they exercise power”), then global citizenship cannot be expressed in any legal sense. It is, however, expressed in other ways that may have a significant and profound impact on the development of civic engagement and citizen-state relations. Three examples are worth mentioning. Since January 1, 2000, negotiations amongst WTO member states regarding the movement of professionals to and from member countries has taken place, under the General Agreement on Trade in Services, Article XIX. While this does not signal de facto recognition of trans-national citizens, it may indicate halting steps toward it. This is all the more significant given that around the globe there is greater and easier movement of goods than human beings. The European Community has taken halting steps to change this: it allows the free movement of its peoples to live, work, pay taxes and, significantly, to vote in other

member states. Habermas (1994) notes this as a utilitarian model that may have greater implications than merely for Europeans; it is possible the model may be expanded in other regions of the world, or to the entire world itself. The ability of a Spaniard to pick up and move to Germany and be a “citizen” there indicates that notions of ties a country of origin may weaken. The...
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