Citizenship and Democracy in a Global Era

Article excerpt

Andrew Vandenberg (editor) Citizenship and Democracy in a Global Era Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London, 2000, pp. 312 ISBN 0-333-74847-6 (pbk) £15.99

Citizenship and Democracy in a Global Era is a somewhat strange collection insofar that it is both useful and frustrating. It is useful to the extent that it contains some excellent theoretical and empirical chapters on the state of global democracy. It is frustrating to the extent that many chapters present a one-dimensional view of globalisation that effectively wipes the inherent contradictions and crisis-tendencies of capitalist forms of democracy from the analytic picture. Both points are present in the introductory chapter by Vandenberg. Here the editor reviews theoretical debates around the themes of citizenship and democracy and concludes by usefully reminding us that these terms have always been contested well before the rise of globalisation. However, Vandenberg frustratingly focuses upon a narrow range of theoretical debates in these areas. Indeed, his almost exclusive concern lies in what liberal thinkers have to say. Yet this is perplexing especially since Vandenberg is also concerned to place these debates historically. At a minimum, therefore, it would have been reasonable to expect some mention of populist and radical theories of citizenship and democracy such as those developed in Britain by the (e.g.) Levellers, radical artisans, Chartists, Reform League, Suffragettes, various trades unions, etc. But none of these voices appear.

This problem is compounded by some of the six chapters which immediately follow in the first section of the book. If there is one overarching theme that links many of them together it seems to be this: in an era which has seen the nation state lose considerable power due to the onset of economic globalisation we must welcome the fluidity of identity-formation by constructing theories of citizenship and democracy which can take account of notions of diversity, multiculturalism, the politics of recognition, pluralism, etc. But while these sentiments are well expressed and are written in good faith I personally found them problematic for three main reasons. First, recent events in Europe which have witnessed the rise of neofascist/racist political parties would seem to suggest that individual loyalty to the nation state has not dispersed globally as some authors of the book argue. Therefore the extent to which the ideas of pluralism, etc., actually capture the complexity of global politics must be questioned. Second, many of chapters in this section rely too heavily upon ideal-typical notions of citizenship in which history is carved up into neat and clear divisions of democratic participation. And so, for example, Turner (chapter 2) argues that 'thick' loyalties of national identity have been slowly eroded in favour of the onset of 'thin' loyalties 'which will celebrate uncertainty of belonging where our 'final vocabularies' are never final' (p. 30). Historically, however, Turner's argument does not adequately capture the diverse ways that people have always appropriated dominant representations of national identity and reinvested them with new meaning. Even during the era of imperialism, symbolic representations of the Empire were always reinterpreted by different social groups and given a new, sometimes radical, twist. …


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