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  • Introduction: Composing the Citizen
  • Thomas Dumm and William Chaloupka

The project of decentering politics may now be emphasizing a new aspect of democratic life. At least, that is the contention of the contributions to this special symposium - an international examination of the citizen.

While contemporary theory has frequently examined identity formation and various political and social operations on identity, the citizen as a category of democratic thought is not a topic that has received much attention of late. But citizenship is a category that has long been central to the democratic argument. The citizen has been shaped as responsible, attentive, reasonable, calculating, knowledgeable, and educable; the pathologies of democratic life are defined in terms of those citizenly qualities. Public opinion polling has altered the democratic argument in many ways, requiring any number of adjustments in the mainstream case - often to account for evidence that citizens usually failed to live up to the standards imagined for them in the democratic story.

As these essays suggest, the decomposition and recomposition of the citizen has now become an international phenomenon with diverse expressions, locations, and symptoms. These phenomena have sometimes been grouped under the rubric “anti-politics,” terminology often applied to H. Ross Perot’s campaigns in the U.S. But that term implies a steady and dependable “politics” that could be opposed. As is becoming clearer, however, “politics” does not cohere in many of the ways we have come to expect. Thus, the focus on “citizen,” emphasizing the operations on the citizen, the effects displayed by citizens, and the consequences for institutions as well as theories.

As the symposium contributions suggest, this new concern for what might be called technologies of citizenship is a broadly international phenomenon. The Australian scholar Alastair Davidson contributes an essay that serves both as a discussion of “the terms of globalisation that appear especially relevant to the issue of citizenship” as well as a contextualization of the excerpt from Dominique Schnapper’s recent work. Acknowledging the international pressures on the notion of citizenship and the debate in France over the citizen role, Davidson’s discussion places these debates in a firmly comparative framework and clarifies Schnapper’s position in the French debates. Theorists in many cultures now replicate these controversies over such issues as citizen education and the institutions crucial to democratic practice. There is “a debate about these issues in France. It is important to remember that it is a debate about how to manage what is increasingly recognised to be a multi-cultural society after two centuries denial that it was a society of immigration requiring more than ‘assimilation.’” The debate over the “new French civics” is particularly useful, given that textbooks and public school curricula have been such lively locales for contention in the U.S.

The Schnapper essay introduces an important French theorist to the English-speaking readership. This excerpt addresses the odd relationship between citizenship and universalism. On one hand, “the definitions that have been given of citizenship do not coincide; in any case, they were the product of conflicts and compromises between diverse conceptions. The definition has evolved over time.” The supposed timelessness of the civic person hides an obvious contradiction; the ranks of voting citizens have only very recently been filled in with the young, women, minorities, and the poor. But despite its evolving character, citizenship still is judged in terms of its “universal vocation.” And, crucially, citizenship has become a standard of exclusion; “Today, we readily think of citizenship as a principle of the exclusion of non-citizens rather than a dialectic of exclusion and inclusion; this is a symptom of the crisis that the idea of citizenship is undergoing.”

The final two essays in the symposium address that supposed crisis. Lisa Disch discusses populism - an important corollary of citizen - in the context of the victory of Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler who became the third party governor of Minnesota. Disch contests the oft-repeated notion that Ventura won because of some lapse or failure among the electorate - a failure of citizenship, as it were. Instead, she argues that “Ventura supporters refused the terms of this debate. They cast aside the role of citizen/legislator to position themselves...

Additional Information

ISSN
1092-311X
Print ISSN
2572-6633
Launched on MUSE
1999-01-01
Open Access
No
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