Citizenship can refer to a political identity, a particular relation between state and individual, or a political activity. Strictly speaking, individuals in Britain are not citizens but subjects of the Crown, and British democracy rests not on the sovereignty of the people (as in most other democratic societies), but on the sovereignty of the ‘crown in parliament’. As a political identity, citizenship denotes membership of a particular polity; hence it is an exclusive identity, demarcating ‘members’ from ‘non-members’. In this sense, citizenship is a political sense of identity and belonging to a particular political entity and community of fellow citizens. However, citizenship is often not commonly viewed or experienced as an exclusively ‘political’ identity, in that citizenship is often understood in terms of ethnic, racial or other terms. While it is most closely associated with the state, citizenship is more commonly associated with the ‘nation’. On this view, citizenship implies belonging not just to a political entity (the state) but to a more nebulous and amorphous collectivity: the ‘nation’. In Britain, this association of citizenship and nation has often expressed itself in racial or ethnic terms such that ‘British citizenship’ is not a freely chosen political relation or identity between individual and state, which means that anyone, any immigrant (in theory), can become a British citizen by being accepted by and in turn agreeing to obey the law of the land. There are those, mostly on the rightwing, nationalist side of the political spectrum, for whom citizenship does not automatically translate into ‘full membership’, since from this perspective, citizenship and belonging are a matter of blood or ethnic lineage and are not ‘voluntary’. An example of this ethnic sense of British citizenship can be seen in the fascist British National Front slogan that ‘There ain’t no black in the Union Jack’, which claims that one cannot be black and British. This minority view has increasingly been marginalized as Britain becomes a more multicultural society, and a less ethnic (i.e. white) sense of Britishness and citizenship has flourished.
   As a relation between state and individual, citizenship connotes a set of rights and duties attached to the citizen. Citizen rights include the following: the right to be free from excessive interference by the state or its agencies, the right to a fair trial, the democratic rights of free association, voting and standing for office and freedom of religion and conscience. More recent ‘social’ rights, as a result of the creation of the postwar British welfare state, include the right to the services of the welfare state such as unemployment benefit, housing, education and health care. Citizen duties are obligations to the state and fellow citizens, and these include upholding and abiding by the law, being a jury member if selected and abiding by the instructions of state representatives. As an activity, citizenship can mean either ‘passive’ or ‘active’ citizenship. By ‘active citizenship’ is meant the participation of citizens in political life and political decision making. Passive citizenship is how most people understand citizenship, voting in periodic national and local elections and electing representatives to govern, make laws and pass legislation.
   See also: Charter 88
   Further reading
    Marshall, T.H. (1950) Citizenship and Social Class, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Oliver, D. and Heater, D. (1994) The Foundations of Citizenship, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
    Turner, B.S. (1993) Citizenship and Social Theory, London: Sage.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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