Citizenship as a status

Citizenship is a status, who should have that status and what it entitles people to is contested. For example, citizenship can be dependant on birthplace, a period of residence, birth status or a combination of these and other factors. Ultimately it is a political decision who has the status of citizenship and what this will entail.


The sociologist T.H. Marshall equated full citizenship with the fulfilment of civil, political and social rights. As a social liberal, his particular form of social equality was not of equality of resources, but of equality of opportunity which would be achieved through access to education and welfare provision. His intention was not to eradicate stratification within society, but make it meritocratic. Society would be based on equal citizenship status and merit, rather than contract and good fortune (Dean, 2015: 4-5). For Dean the paradox is that Marshall’s social liberal views, by leaving economic inequalities untouched, coincide with the one-nation conservatism ideal of non-conflictual, stable social order (2015: 5)

Citizenship duties

The discourse of citizenship includes ideas of ideal citizens. A ‘good citizen’ contributes to the society. What society values as contributions may change and includes:

  • participation in public life (politics, civil society organisations, etc.)
  • Work
  • Contributions to culture

Although participation is often cited as a positive feature of citizenship, participation is viewed as a right or goal, rather than an obligation. It is a positive contribution that appears to be the duty. Not all participation will be valued as a positive contribution. Thus participating in a drama group as a service user might not be valued as a contribution to society but a right of inclusion. Contribution is about production, not consumption.

Thus in his chapter on “Disability, work and welfare: the disappearance of the polymorphic productive landscape” Alan Roulstone sees the nub of the issue for disabled people as their contribution to society, and in particular their productivity. For Roulstone the modern capitalist state as erased or devalued some of the activities of disabled people.

“Disabled people, as with their non-disabled counterparts, were once involved in a much broader range of economically validated and productive work that included localised contractual, familial and kin obligation, reciprocal arrangements, promissory commitments, and feudal-bonded and forced activities” (Roulstone, 2015: 258).

For Roulstone industrial capitalism has designed many disabled people out of productive activity (2015: 259).