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Cultural Citizenship

September 3, 2012

Citizenship is a tough occupation
~ Martha Gellhorn (war correspondent)
[quoted, p.xi Stuart Allen ‘Series Editor’s Foreword’, pp.xi-xii in Nick Stevenson (2003) Cultural Citizenship: Cosmopolitan Questions. Open University Press: Maidenhead]

Cultural citizenship

I am really interested in the discussions around cultural citizenship and finally picked up Nick Stevenson’s book on the subject (I know he has others and more recent but I’m starting here).

Introducing his book (Cultural Citizenship: Cosmopolitan Questions, that is), Stevenson writes: “Whether we define citizenship through questions of rights, notions of obligation and duty, membership of overlapping communities or normalization, questions of culture are not far away. I show that the reasons for this are largely due to the fact that we can now be said to live in an informational and technological society unlike any other.” (p.1)

“To talk of cultural citizenship means that we take questions of rights and responsibilites far beyond the technocratic agendas of mainstream politics and media. That is to say, we seek to form an appreciation of the ways in which ‘ordinary’ understandings become constructed, of issues of interpretative conflict and semiotic plurality more generally.” (p.4)

Interesting points I’m looking forward to reading about include:

– his suggestion that there is a “need for city-based citizenship” (p.2) (I couldn’t help wondering about Urban Fantasy and it’s extreme popularity just now…)

– his interest in “how we might provide fertile ground for what [Stevenson calls] the cosmopolitan imagination.” (p.5) …again… what role does the imagination have in political structures (going more fully into the notion of imagination than the more political use of it in terms like social ‘imaginary’)?

“…cosmopolitanism,” Stevenson asserts, “is not only concerned with intermixing and the ethical relations between the self and the other, but seeks an institutional and political grounding in the context of shared global problems. A concern for cosmopolitan dimensions will inevitably seek to develo an understanding of the discourses, codes and narratives that make such political understandings a possibility. …I will argue that we need to consider the development of questions of cultural citizenship within the contours of a shared information society. The emergence of such a society requires not only that we rethink our notions of culture and citizenship, but also that we seek to develop a new understanding of contemporary social transformations.” (p.5)

Ref: Nick Stevenson (2003) Cultural Citizenship: Cosmopolitan Questions. Open University Press: Maidenhead

Note: also interesting is Stuart Allen’s summary of Stevenson’s book, Cultural Citizenship (in his ‘Series Editor’s Foreword’):

“Precisely what is meant by the word ‘citizenship’, especially with regard to certain avowed rights, obligations or responsibilities associated with it, is historically-specific and will vary dramatically from one national context to the next. In any given society this process of definition is never secured once and for all, of course, but rather is subject to the contradictions of power, especially as they are experienced, negotiated and resisted as part of everyday life. It is by exploring a range of pressing questions at this level, the very materiality of our lived engagement with citizenship, that Nick Stevenson’s Cultural Citizenship seeks to intervene in current debates. ‘Cultural citizenship’, he argues, is a newly emerging interdisciplinary concept that is concerned with issues of recognition and respect, of responsibility and pleasure, and with visibility and marginality. It encompasses politics with a capital and a small ‘p’, such that viewing a soap opera can be regarded as being just as political as voting in an election. At the same time, Stevenson contends, the concept of cultural citizenship is also concerned to search for a new ethics that can help guide us through these turbulent and contested times.” (p.xi, Stuart Allen, Op. Cit.)


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