Cultural Citizenship

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Cultural Citizenship

Cultural citizenship has been part of a broader discussion on cultural pluralism that began in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. Since then pluralism has undergone at least three noteworthy transformations, beginning with, during the first quarter of the twentieth century, attempts to preserve primarily European immigrant cultures vis-à-vis the state, followed by the integrationist civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and lastly, the mainstreaming of "difference" and a multiculturalism that began in the 1980s. Never intended to destabilize the authority of the nation-state or its ideology, these "politics of difference" have helped give voice to American democratic citizenship.

Cultural Citizenship and Latinos

The notion of cultural citizenship initially developed in the 1980s, in part to bring greater multicultural emphasis to discourses of race in the United States that stressed black and white dichotomies. It is both a theoretical perspective and methodological approach with which to examine the socio-cultural identity, political will, and cultural creation of primarily Latino populations in the United States. Theoretically, the notion acknowledges the cultural resiliency, social reproduction (the class, cultural, and linguistic knowledge and skills that establish the cultural capital of social groups), and rights-claiming agency of ethnic communities and other marginalized groups as viable and worthy outcomes of social injustice and alienation. Methodologically, cultural citizenship requires that social scientists approach their studies from the perspective of subordinate groups in order to understand the latter's goals, perceptions, and purposes. The term appears to have been coined by the anthropologist Renato Rosaldo, who first used it in the late 1980s to make a case for the democratization of institutions of higher education through diversity in the classroom, curricula, decision making, and society at large; a call not unlike that made by Chicano civil rights leaders of a generation before. In the 1980s and 1990s a Latino cohort of social scientists, among them Rosaldo, used the concept to examine Latino civic participation in the voicing, claiming, and negotiating of cultural space. Importantly, these studies speak to cultural phenomena as the aesthetic and force behind the empowerment of groups to civic action. As such, cultural citizenship examines the colloquial meanings of alienation and belonging as they apply to marginalized groups with respect to the national community. In this context, claims to rights made against the state by subordinate communities arise as a consequence of degradation and exclusion in their daily environments but may also result from acts of self-definition, representation, affirmation, sensibility, and aesthetics. Specifically, these may be expressed as desires and aspirations for equality, respect, and dignity. In the early years of the twenty-first century, cultural citizenship has been applied to modernizing efforts in an international context.

Sociocultural Agents of Citizenship

It is clear from the literature on cultural citizenship that cultural phenomena and issues of identity are privileged over theoretical considerations having to do with membership in the polity, except for its emphasis on the group. Unlike traditional concepts of citizenship in which the individual is the rights holder, the agents and subjects of cultural citizenship are undeniably the group. In concert with the literature on cultural pluralism, cultural citizenship too presents rights claiming as the prerogative of the group and, as such, calls attention to an ongoing broader debate between cultural pluralism and universal citizenship in the nation-state.

For much of the studies on Latino cultural citizenship, membership in the nation-state is implicitly ambiguous as if yet to be determined or in the process of becoming, as must be the case for illegal immigrant populations in the nation-state. Others describe a kind of citizenship practiced by Latino communities before the nation-state as "social citizenship," specifically using T. H. Marshal's meaning of social as entitlement to benefits deriving from the largesse of the welfare state. Similarly, social rights to citizenship have been used to describe a "citizenship without consent" practiced by communities of Mexican illegal immigrants in a postnational context inclusive of as well as beyond the nation-state.

Group-differentiated citizenship has been criticized on several counts, among them its reverting to premodern ways of using religious, ethnic, or class membership to determine the political status of people; its discouraging the integration of ethnoracial groups into mainstream society; and its undermining of a greater fraternity between all Americans and a common sense of purpose. The historian David Hollinger argues that group-differentiated citizenship is provincial and given to insularity when the need is for cosmopolitanism and "freedom of affiliation" embodied by the exceptional growth (compared with other nations) of mixed-raced people in the United States.

In response, cultural pluralists point out that citizenship rights as originally conceived by the nation's founding fathers are oblivious to the needs and differences of multicultural groups. Indeed, the philosopher Iris M. Young argues, the American liberal concept of equal citizenship plays no part in the notion of universal citizenship, nor is it meant to, since the latter assumes and upholds a homogeneous collective community at the expense and suppression of group difference. For this reason, Juan Gómez-Quiñones believes, Chicano/Latino cultural identity is vital to membership in a political community precisely because citizenship rights and responsibilities do not encompass multicultural rights. "Though there has been a great stress on voting qua voting as a measure of political achievement and influence," he writes, "the act of voting does not promise the achievement of full equities, much less direct and full democracy" (p. 211).

Defenders of differentiated group representation believe that citizenship should recognize and accommodate sociocultural difference to compensate for past injustices. For Young, any conception of equal citizenship must include historically excluded groups in the political community both as individuals and as members of the group. Young questions an ideal that in practice reinforces the power of the privileged in "this unified public" (of universal citizenship) while marginalizing others. An alternative approach to membership in the polity is "differentiated citizenship," which allows for group-based claims or distinct group rights for what Young calls "social-cultural" groups but which the philosopher Will Kymlicka distinguishes as national and ethnic minorities and underrepresented groups. According to Kymlicka, some form of differentiated group rights for the latter comprise part of citizenship rights in most, if not all, modern democracies.

See also Assimilation ; Citizenship: Naturalization ; Identity, Multiple ; Nation .


Flores, William V. "Citizens vs. Citizenry: Undocumented Immigrants and Latino Cultural Citizenship." In Latino Cultural Citizenship: Claiming Identity, Space, and Rights, edited by William V. Flores and Rina Benmayor. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.

Gómez-Quiñones, Juan. Chicano Politics: Reality and Promise, 19401990. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990.

Hollinger, David A. Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

Kymlicka, Will. Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Oxford: Clarendon; New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Rosaldo, Renato. "Cultural Citizenship, Inequality, and Multiculturalism." In Race, Identity, and Citizenship: A Reader, edited by Rodolfo D. Torres, Louis F. Mirón, and Jonathan X. Inda. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999.

. Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Rev. ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.

Rosaldo, Renato, ed. Cultural Citizenship in Island Southeast Asia: Nation and Belonging in the Hinterlands. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Walzer, Michael. "Pluralism: A Political Perspective." In Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, edited by Stephan Thernstrom. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Young, Iris M. "Polity and Group Difference: A Critique of the Ideal of Universal Citizenship." In Theorizing Citizenship, edited by Ronald Beiner. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Adelaida R. Del Castillo