- From Subjects to Citizens: A Hundred Years of Citizenship in Australia and Canada
The editors of From Subjects to Citizens (the latest addition to the University of Ottawa Press Governance Series) set out to accomplish two goals: demonstrate the value of comparative research between Canada and Australia, and deepen our understanding of the concept of citizenship. Unfortunately, they fall short of both objectives. No fewer than nineteen articles are published in this collection, yet barely two could honestly be characterized as 'comparative.' Most of these pieces provide only a cursory discussion of how ideas of citizenship have evolved in both countries. If we learn anything from this book, it is to avoid forcing a publication out of an awkward collection of conference papers with only tenuous links.
At first glance, the endeavour appears laudable. Although fully a third of the contributors are political scientists, the other authors come from myriad backgrounds including professors of law, English, sociology, Aboriginal studies, and public policy. Among the non-academics are two writers, an appellate judge, and a representative from Screen Sound Australia. It is a truly interdisciplinary work. At the same time, the lack of historical work in this field is evident by the fact that only one historian (Constance Backhouse) contributed to this collection.
The essays explore a variety of issues including civic debate and deliberative democracy, the relationship between culture and citizens' sense of identity, multiculturalism, the implications of multiple identities and citizenships, the meaning of nation, women's issues, Aboriginal citizenship, and globalization. Instead of encouraging the development of truly comparative work, however, most of the essays simply deal with either Canada or Australia. The editors have left it up to readers to draw their own comparisons. Since few of the articles deal with similar topics, the reader will be excused from finding this a difficult task. [End Page 138]
Eight of the contributors deal with Australia. Helen Irving introduces us to the evolution of citizenship as a legal construct, and argues that Australian citizenship has always been a highly racialized concept. David Headon laments the lack of current debate in Australia on issues of identity, civic pride, and duty; his essay is a superficial review of manifestations of public debate over the meaning of citizenship. A similarly inadequate discussion of citizenship is provided by John M. Williams, who predicts the downfall of the monarchy in Australia in favour of republicanism. His account of the impact of the principle 'sovereign- ty of the people' leads him to suggest that judges may soon use this section of the constitution to justify invalidating statutes, although not because a statute violates the constitution, but because the government has failed in its trusteeship with the people. Marian Sawer provides an overview of the history of the secret ballot and argues that Australians' notions of citizenship have evolved from an ethnically based identity to a civic identity rooted in liberal democratic principles. Sawer's empirical analysis, however, is weak and does not go far beyond the study of political rhetoric. Several of the articles on Australia are also questionably relevant to the theme of citizenship, including Alasdair McGregor's discussion of Australian exploration of Antarctica, Jeff Brownrigg's short biography of opera signer Dame Nellie Melba, Sara Dowse's personal account of life as a woman in Australia in the 1970s, and Marcia Langton's critique of the Australian government's Aboriginal policy.
The Canadian contributors offer a great deal more insight into the nature and function of citizenship. David E. Smith reminds us of the simple but critical fact that notions of citizenship evolve over time. Smith offers a list of useful indices that currently define Canadian citizenship, although his assumption (shared by many) about the centrality of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is open to debate. While it is true that Canadians are linked by an ideology of universal human rights, Australians are no less bound by similar beliefs in fundamental freedoms, yet their...