1. What does it mean to be a citizen?
The term “Citizen” is defined in the compact Macquarie Dictionary as, “a member, native or naturalised, of state or nation”. This paper intends to question what it is that constitutes a member or citizen, of state or nation. Many concepts and theories are promoted by political theorists and practitioners alike that are varied and many in response to defining a “citizen”. The expanse of these theories ranges from the all-encompassing endorsement of world citizenship where nation or state borders are invisible, to limited conditional nation based citizenship, which for example, may discriminate against a citizen’s nationality in applying for government office positions.
Whilst citizenship in a legal context can be defined objectively and focuses on the formal status of an individual in the community, such as permanent or temporary residency it is the social definition of citizenship that becomes varied. Diverse as the theories are regarding citizenship, as noted by Heywood there is a correlation amongst the theorists that citizenship is the relationship between the individual, state and society. It is this relationship and surrounding values that defines the rights and responsibilities of citizenship that becomes complex.
It is the focus of this essay to present a critical perspective on the broader concepts of citizenship that explores ideas and theories concerning the social rights and responsibilities of citizenship and my support, and/or criticism of these theories in response to marginalisation, exclusion and inclusion within the community.
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As Australia has no bill of rights that outlines the identity of what the relationship is regarding the rights and responsibilities as a citizen, it is up to each individual to interpret the significance of citizenship. As an Australian born citizen my personal expectations include a broad variety of rights and responsibilities that are reciprocal between Australia and its citizens.
My values align with those expressed by the Australian government regarding citizenship as a membership for the common good of all that includes a commitment to Australia and to the values and principles that underpin Australia’s democracy and its public institutions. These principles include observing the rule of law, tolerance, equality of opportunity, Parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and religion, equality of the races and sexes and acceptance of the right of others to express their views and values. In response to this I expect the Australian government to commit to these principles by way of supportive legislation to enforce, such as federal and state anti-discrimination laws, adequate funding to initiate by way of budget, and community education of these principles that is available to all in creating an infrastructure of endorsement for these behaviors.
In my opinion the fact that we have what I would argue as vague normative principles, being ideals, surrounding citizenship in a multicultural society, creates difficulty in defining the significance of citizenship and the common good. Whilst Australia has addressed the political and civil rights of citizens to accommodate equality, for example the right to equality before the law and the right to vote , it is the social rights within our communities that come under criticism.
I believe that it is due to the lack of an agreed charter that details mutual obligation between citizens and society that is representative of Australian citizens that increases the opportunity to marginalize and exclude certain members of the community. Social exclusion refers to the situation of people who do not have access to the goods and services enjoyed by the majority and extends to how we conceive and organise our response to this inequality. This exclusion can be through economic and/or social disadvantage such as non-English speaking migrants, the disabled and women etc, and is exacerbated in areas where these groups are under represented or disadvantaged within the community framework.
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It is with these groups in mind that I believe a more structured community model with consideration of social inclusion that is based on redistribution of social wealth as promoted by Marshall that encompasses civil, political and social rights can act as a safety net to minimize exclusion.
I believe in the principles subscribed to by social democrats and others that economic and social right is intertwined as the foundation of a civilized life. In my opinion history has proven that economic inequity thwarts opportunity in education, personal development and equal social opportunities that establishes a cycle of exclusion that if not addressed can produce “second class citizens” status that can be entrenched in generations and tolerated as a fact of life. The concept of tolerance as suggested by Walzer in this environment is totally unacceptable in aiding a plural society such as ours. In my view social conditions that have created “second class citizens” preventing them from social inclusion can be addressed within the framework of a welfare assisted state with a universal mix of government, non-government and community funded developed with the aim of ensuring social cohesion and equity of access, treatment and opportunity.
In promoting and supporting these social rights for citizens I would also argue in favour of an obligation of responsibility to participate in the community. This participation as a citizen should not be a substitute for the necessary improvements in the social and material conditions of those who are socially disadvantaged but I believe it is a vital part of the process of achieving social inclusion. , Education within the community needs to highlight that different forms of participatory citizenship are all equally valuable to our social fabric, such as caring for our elderly, disabled and young etc that is often neglected as a contribution in society .
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As stated by Heywood, an important part of being, that in my view is part of citizenship, is to have a psychological component, a sense of belonging. Belonging to a group regardless of size or cause will have no meaning unless you feel you belong. It is for this reason of belonging that I acknowledge the concept of world citizenship as suggested by Martha Nussbaum, but do not value it as appropriate when inspiring a sense of belonging, as it is my opinion that it becomes impersonal. This concept of belonging is paramount in a plural democracy with differing views and I would emphasis the benefit of a national charter of citizen rights and obligations in creating a common denominator that would be a benchmark for inclusion and avenue for solidarity.
I maintain that participation within a community is beneficial for its own sake in that contributing strengthens democracy and the participants’ own democratic habits. Recognition of issues within the community such as lack of homecare assistance for the elderly will not be addressed without activity in the wider community that informs. Participation leads to educational and community development benefits that are recognized as further opportunity to achieve and/ or defend individual outcomes with the benefit of education and political influence and power.
It is for this reason that my preference of models for participation is that of the social democrats where all citizens are given a stake in society regardless of their economic or social standing that is beneficial for the individual as well as the state or nation, rather than the republican, modern liberal or right- winged libertarian models. In my view the classical republican model as supported by Arendt and others, offers limited opportunity for involvement of civic duties and a sense of belonging for individuals that struggle with daily survival, and would therefore offer a prejudiced view of representation within the community. This model in my opinion has opportunity to develop into a class driven society whereby citizens with time and economic support mould the community with narrow perspectives.
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I also support the thought that participation within a community does not automatically inspire a sense of citizenship and belonging as noted by Heywood. Many citizens in rural and remote communities who are community focussed and work exceptionally long hours protest that they are marginalised due to geographic localities, government support and market conditions. These rural communities value themselves as active within the community but believe they are penalised by incurring higher costs for basic services such as telecommunications, daily consumables etc and have limited access to resources such as health and education.
It is with these environments in mind that dispels the arguments, in my view, that are presented by neo-liberal theories as sound principles for future community development and citizen participation. The individualist self-help concept, as advocated by some , appear to lack a fundamental human element of support and social cohesion that is vital in producing a “community”. In my mind this is against the concept of citizenship in working toward the common good in creating an environment that accommodates a safety net for all.
Further to this I believe that practices evolving from right-wing libertarians that promote individualism limit social representation which in turn creates poverty avenues and community divide. The practices of individualism in my opinion are founded on the thought of all being on equal social and economic standing in the first instance and allow no room for the disadvantaged. I argue that if structures to right social inequities and create opportunities are not established to assist, society will not broaden its thought association and individuals will not flourish to their full potential. To support these services and provide social equity may involve the justification of social inequality to benefit the disadvantaged as proposed by Rawls. Without the introduction of this principle many disadvantaged groups within Australia would not have equal opportunity to develop and act as citizens and be part of a community.
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In conclusion, within this essay I have endeavored to define the concept of a citizen that has explored various theories surrounding this topic and present a sound discussion on my belief of the interlocking association between social inclusion and citizenship. I firmly believe that co-operation and participation between individuals of a society that has a broad spectrum of representation forms a strong community devoid of marginalisation. I maintain the concept of communities lending support to the government in eliminating the economic and social gap separating people from realising their full potential. This can be supported with a sound infrastructure that removes barriers and risk to social inclusion that develops the skills and capacities of individuals to participate in the social and economic
mainstream of community life will encourage a more equitable society.
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The Term Paper on The positive function and negative function of the social policy in Hong Kong society
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