Document Library

Citizenship and the Boundaries of the Acknowledged Community: Identity, Affiliation and Exclusion

Author: N Kabeer
Date: 2002
Size: 48 pages (259KB)

Access document Access full text: available online ...


The history of citizenship has been an unhappy one. The denial of resources and the rights of some groups by others is typical, and no historically significant form of citizenship has been incompatible with this type of exclusion.

This Institute of Development Studies (IDS) paper looks at two different forms of citizenship: the ‘imagined community’ of the nation-state with its rights and duties, and other communities within the nation-state with their own claims and obligations. It considers how these forms of citizenship shape the patterns of access to and exclusion from resources.

The modern idea of citizenship, based on the rights of the individual, came about because of the ‘great transformation’ of Europe, where societies moved from limited economic exchange, based on social relations of kin and community, to a generalised commodity cash market. In the colonial experience, categories were invented to make sense of the diverse ethnic and religious landscape of their colonies, and these ‘imagined’ groups became real over time. Colonial countries experienced independence based on these groups, rather than as independent citizens and without the social and economic changes that Europe experienced.

Notions of citizenship, as constructed in the West, are inappropriate in postcolonial contexts where differences in the population have been exacerbated or artificially suppressed. Main findings are that:

  • A universally shared concept of citizenship is far away from what it is understood to mean in a practical sense.

  • The model of an abstract individual citizen, without private loyalties, who has the same status as every other citizen has rarely translated into practice.

  • There are parallel traditions of belonging: traditional identities and affiliations and formal ones. Competition over citizenship is often competition over resources and patterns of exclusion result from these parallel traditions.

  • Inequalities in access to resources feed on and reproduce asymmetries in social relationships. There is a particular form of dependency created by this situation that means that subordinate groups cannot exercise their rights or even participate.

  • These exclusions are serious because they reinforce life threatening deprivation and inequality and consign significant portions of the community to clientist dependency.

  • There has been an absence of mobilisation to support women’s rights. What is peculiar to gender is an ‘internalisation’ of constraints. The assumptions about the different roles or ‘characteristics’ of men and women are not challenged.

Constructing more inclusive forms of citizenship cannot be done with ‘quick-fix’ policy recommendations. It will need to be a long-term struggle by a wider range of social actors and is not in the domain of policy analysis. However, general recommendations are that:

  • Self-identity is important for the recognition of the ‘right to have rights’. Education – not necessarily in a formal sense – and awareness raising about self worth, status and rights and ‘learning citizenship’ are important.

  • The institutionalised processes of access and exclusion needs to be addressed. Enfranchisement and a special provision for women are an important part of this process. Anti-poverty measures and redistributive laws are also important.

  • Forms of association and collective action are important and should be encouraged.

Access document Access full text: available online

Source: Kabeer, N., 2002, 'Citizenship and the Boundaries of the Acknowledged Community: Identity, Affiliation and Exclusion', IDS Working Paper no 171.
Author: Institute of Development Studies ,