Citizenship in the Atlantic World

Federica Morelli

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online April 2018 | | DOI:
Citizenship in the Atlantic World

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Normally scholars, including historians of the Atlantic world, have traditionally strictly linked the concept of citizenship to that of the nation-state and its formation in the 19th and 20th centuries. This concept of citizenship emerged in the wake of the political and socioeconomic transformations resulting from the American and French Revolutions, on the one hand, and the Industrial Revolution, on the other. This modern perspective on citizenship is, however, quite restrictive, considering the term “citizen” has been employed since Antiquity to grant rights to individuals or groups living in a certain community, and because it disregards the social dimension of citizenship. The works listed in this article understand citizenship more extensively, defined as the ability to (a) participate in a political community, (b) enjoy individual or collective rights, and (c) share a sense of belonging. Citizenship cannot be reduced to a direct relationship of an individual to the state, unmediated by other affiliations. Citizenship has always had a cultural context, a question of which people were “in” and which were “out.” The very idea of the relationship of an individual to the state has always required the making of a claim, and debates about relating citizenship to other forms of social affinity are long-standing and ongoing within communities. The legal definition of citizenship is thus not sufficient to explain the procedures of acquisition or loss of citizen status: forms of belonging are built in the social fabric, through practices of integration and identification, which make certain persons recognizable by others as members of the community. Although the Atlantic revolutions contributed to the spread of the principle of legal equality and the elimination of the ethnic categories of colonial regimes, belonging to communities and enjoying certain rights continued to be one of the main instruments through which citizens were distinguished from noncitizens in the 19th-century Atlantic world. The mechanisms of incorporation into the national community were not imposed exclusively by the state, but resulted from complex dynamics between the state and the society. Thus citizenship can no longer be studied using a classic Marshallian approach, which assumes a progressive broadening of civic, political, social rights. Atlantic history, with its focus on colonial or postcolonial multiethnic societies, has helped historians shift toward a social approach to citizenship studies. Understanding that social practices influence legal definitions of citizenship, and that there are not striking differences between the construction of citizenship in the different empires and states of the Atlantic world, this article is not based on chronological or spatial divisions, but essentially on social concepts. This can help the reader look at citizenship more broadly, not limited to a legal, state-centered approach. At the same time, many of these concepts are very interrelated, which means the reader may find one source cited in multiple sections.

Article.  8181 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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