Citizenship Rights and Social Movements: A Comparative and Statistical Analysis

By Joe Foweraker; Todd Landman | Go to book overview

Citizenship, Collective Action,
and the State

Popular Struggles for Citizenship: The View from Below

There is a remarkable degree of academic consensus about the genesis of citizenship.1 Its main premiss is that citizenship must be understood in terms of rights. Its main conclusion is that rights are won through social struggle by subordinate groups. It is by struggling to 'improve their lot' ( Giddens 1982: 171) and being 'willing to fight' ( Tarrow 1990: 103) that these groups come to 'demand and obtain citizen rights' ( Clarke 1993: 19). Even if this struggle involves 'apparently trivial, ineffectual, or self-serving actions', it can have an eventual impact on the great issues of 'political right and obligation' ( Tilly, Tilly, and Tilly 1975: 299). But, these rights are not granted easily or willingly. On the contrary, the historical record suggests that 'collective violence' is often required to 'overcome the resistance of the government' ( Tilly, Tilly, and Tilly 1975: 184). It is not political protest by single individuals but the 'collective struggles of the dispossessed' that have won the 'rights of citizens' ( Bowles and Gintis 1987: p. x). Almost paradoxically, the essentially individual rights of citizenship can only be achieved through different forms of collective struggle.

Traditionally, these collective struggles have been understood to express class conflict, and especially the rise of the working class. The English school of social history ( Dobb 1963; Hill 1958; Thompson 1974; Hobsbawm 1968; Hilton 1976) has shown that

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1
The consensus encompasses historians ( Thompson 1974; Hobsbawm 1968, 1977), historical sociologists ( Moore 1973; Kimmel 1990; Smith 1991), political sociologists ( Therborn 1976, 1977), sociologists ( Turner 1986; Barbalet 1988), political theorists ( Held 1989; Giddens 1982, 1985; Young 1987, 1989; Clarke 1993), and political economists ( Bowles and Gintis 1987).

-1-

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