>Global citizenship: now UC see it…


Are you for global citizenship? I certainly am. And, so more, importantly is UCL, which defines its mission in these terms and, not surprisingly, wants the idea to perculate through its teaching and research. I’ve been puzzling for while quite what this might mean in concrete terms, so the Roundtable on Global Citizenship held as part of the launch of the new UCL Department of Political Science seemed an ideal opportunity to find out, especially as the star turn was Bernard Crick of In Defence of Politics fame – a book which even penetrated behind the Iron Curtain, inspiring at least one leading Czech dissident (Petr Pithart) to reject the anti-political drift of non-conformist intellectuals in communist Czechoslovakia after the collapse of the Prague Spring.
UCL’s corporate view of ‘global citizenship’ stresses the idea of well-rounded individualists moving freely big and diverse world, tooled up with critical thinking skills, a well developed sense of entrepeurialism and a willingness to take on responsibiltiy and leasdership roles (and, of course, get good a job to pay the bills). In political science terms, however, the term raised questions rather more difficult questions than being a dynamic university with liberal values and a global reach: what actually makes up ‘citizenship’ and what political institutions that might define and protect it. All panelists were actually rather sceptical of the term.
Having opened with some slyly humourous recollections about his time as a ‘token young man’ at ‘UC’ in the 1960s when it tried and failed to start up a politics department to rival the hegemony of LSE, Sir Bernard decried the vagueness of the term, which short of some form of Wellsian world government could at best mean the promotion of ‘citizens from different parts of the globe’ and worst serve as a pretext for ducking difficult issues closer to home. Teachers of citizenship as a secondary school subject, he suggested, sometimes found discussion of the Amazon rainforest a convenient way of ducking discussion of more immediate problems of citizenship on the ethnically and religiously diverse streets of Britain.
Although Prof Richard Bellamy linked global citizenship to the global spead of democracy – the best form he argued for maintaining and defending civil and political rights – other panellist including Bernard Crick were less sanguine, pointing out that citizenship predated mass democracy and happily coexist with authoritarian political forms. Globalization was, however, seen as the bigger challenge in a world which, it was agreed, national states not supranational institutions (even the EU) or global civil society will be not only the main actors and the main providers and protectors of democratic citizenship.
Not that national citizenship remained had untouched by globalization or Europeanization. The partial unravelling of the building blocks of traditional national citizenship – membership of a specific community; civil and human rights; and opportunities for participation in decision-making – into looser forms of ‘post-national citizenship’ actually created a hierarchy of citizenships with migrants and non-nationals relegated to a second of third class status ( ‘denizenship’ so to speak) in the guise of post-modern. Citizenship is, after all, an illiberal notion based on exclusion as well as inclusion.
90 minutes later as I crunched on a biscuit I still didn’t quite know how to ‘do’ global citizenship, but I had a whole lot more to ponder.

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