What is Citizenship and T.H. Marshall’s Theory – Analysis

The concept of citizenship as we understand today has not always been the same, considering it existed even in the times of the Greeks and the Romans. Aristotle in his book ‘Politics’, said that man is a social animal and for the development of his personality he needs to participate in affairs of the polis. By this he hinted at the need for a citizenship of man and various discourses have been made since on the concept of citizenship. The Greeks saw citizenship as the enjoyment of the right. The Greeks saw citizenship as the enjoyment of the right of sharing in the deliberative or judicial office. The Romans citizenship guaranteed the right to vote, eligibility for public office, right to intermarriage, etc. Bodin saw citizenship as the mutual obligation between subject and sovereign to obey and to protect.

With the moving to later periods, citizenship was discussed by thinkers like Mill, Bentham, who focussed mainly on individual liberty, political participation and property rights and Green, who focussed on the criterion of having a good life and social welfare. T H Marshall viewed citizenship as different parts and how they were all intertwined. In his famous book ‘Citizenship and Social class’ he brings out this points and views citizenship as a dynamic idea.

Marshall Citizenship Theory

Citizenship for Marshall is a status bestowed on those who are full members of a community. Those who possess this status are equal with respect to the rights and duties that come with it. However, there is no universal principle that determines what those rights and duties shall be. Marshall divides citizenship into three parts

• Civil
• Political
• Social

In early times, these three elements of citizenship were fused, as a result of the institutions being fused. Marshall goes on to trace the history of citizenship by studying it a process of fusion and separation, where the fusion was geographical and separation functional. He assigned the development of each part to a century- civil rights to the eighteenth century, political to the nineteenth and social to the twentieth century. We will now look deeper in these parts of citizenship and their development.

The civil element is composed of the rights necessary for individual freedom, like personal liberty, freedom of speech, right to own property, freedom of thought etc. The institutions most directly associated with civil rights are the courts of justice. It also includes the right to work, that is to follow the occupation of one’s choice, something that was denied by both statutes and customs.

Civil rights were the first to appear, in the eighteenth century. In its formative period, it was a gradual addition of new rights to a status that already existed. With civil citizenship, law and equality were guaranteed to protect the liberty of the people, whether it was right to work, right to move freely etc. Civil citizenship paved the way to move towards political citizenship.

The political element mainly means the right to participate in the exercise of political power, as a member of a body invested with political authority or as an elector of the members of such a body., where the corresponding institutions are parliament and councils of local government. The political element made its appearance in the nineteenth century when the civil rights attached to the status of freedom was already at the core of a general idea of citizenship. Political citizenship was meant to grant the old rights to new sections of society. Universal suffrage marked the beginning of political citizenship to individuals, however, Marshall asserted that political franchise was not one of the rights of citizenship but actually a privilege of the limited economic class.

The social element means to be able to live in a society as a civilized being, according to the prevailing standards in society with economic welfare and security to the right to share to the full in the social heritage. The institutions of the educational system and the social services most closely connected with it. The social element of citizenship made entry much later and was originally sourced in the membership of local communities and functional associations. This source was supplemented by a system of wage regulation that was nationally conceived and locally administered. The system of wage regulation was rapidly decaying because of industrial change and its incompatibility with the new ideas of civil rights.

Thus Marshall entered into the realm of viewing citizenship from the social class perspective. With the changing nature of capitalism, the nature of citizenship also changed, to a more complicated version. The changing economy brought newer sections to power- the industrialists were now more powerful than the landlords that enjoyed privilege in the feudal system. The new classes that rose to power now demanded more rights, and thus they moved towards democratization to protect their interest, especially that of accumulation of property and so-called equality. The newly grown idea of citizenship was now supposed to protect the people in power, the bourgeois class whose aim was to extend the capitalist market economy and the citizenship rights were supposed to advance the process. However, the feudal class that previously enjoyed power were now left abandoned. Some rights were granted to the working class, like that of political franchise, through various socialist movements.

But the varying interests of different classes gradually led to a greater conflict. While the industrialists aimed for more profits and no taxation, the welfare state of social citizenship needed to increase taxation. Social citizenship ensured the provision of basic necessities like health and education along with the minimum wages rules, rules for minimum hours of work, minimum working conditions, occupational safety and compensation in case of accidents at the workplace etc. The capitalist ideology is based on inequality and exploitation of workers and thus the concept of social rights hurt the capitalist ideology. The state dealt with these two opposing interests by granting some rights to the working class, preventing them from proceeding to a greater conflict that could overthrow the system.

The introduction of citizenship rights thus did not end inequalities, but only gave an illusion of equality, further pushing back the working class into the exploitative system while consoling them with external improvements. Thus, Marshall set in motion a questioning of the righteousness of democracy, that only carries on the capitalist expansionism with the veil of equality.


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Dishari Roy , Student at JNU