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Boundaries and dynamics of citizenship

The various forms of social and political participation and mobilization are a recurrent theme in sociology, political science, and philosophy. For several years, the different teams due to feature in the Cresppa have been studying these forms and their permanent redefinition in order to analyze their dynamics. If we agree that “citizenship” means the exercise of political rights within a certain community or society, it is then necessary to reflect on its dimension as a social and political construction, and on the historical variations of its definition. Far from being a constant feature in politics, citizenship is characterized by ever-changing boundaries and contrasting epistemes.

A frequently overlooked question, the legal or socially legitimate definition of citizenship, however, is a prerequisite to any form of positive knowledge on political dynamics, and an important phase in any critical or normative questioning on its potential mutations. Insofar as it concerns one of the roots of political life, this questioning can be described as “radical.” It is the principal and federative theme of research established by the Cresppa in the field of politics or of the political.
Regardless of the original disciplines of the researchers working on this subject, the aim here is to reflect on the new boundaries of citizenship along five main dimensions:

The different levels of expression of political citizenship in representative democracies; its forms and factors

This first line of inquiry focuses on political competency, on the various forms of and uneven access to political participation, and on shifting conceptions of citizenship depending on national and social contexts. These differences in practices and representations stem from social factors: as such, it is necessary to acquire a better understanding of them – and especially of their recent and often rapid mutations. They are also closely linked to political behaviors: these links must be identified if we are to establish a more precise view of the components of political citizenship. The involvement of the Cresppa’s researchers both in international and national investigations, and, on a completely different scale, in more site-specific ethnographic studies, may open the way, in years to come, to innovative research in these areas.

This first perspective in studying citizenship also covers research on commitment in social and political organizations. It extends and develops the long-standing interest that members of the different Cresppa teams have shown for trade-unionism. What factors may encourage participation in trade-unionism – whose decline has been frequently mentioned in the current context of economic crisis? Another aspect in this set of investigations on citizenship is related to activist commitment – a theme frequently studied in both Cresppa teams, either as a central theme, or through a cross-disciplinary approach in numerous studies on immigration, feminisms, committed intellectuals, etc. In particular, research will be conducted on communism – following a study developing prosopographical methods that was subject to a contract with the ANR (National Agency for Research) – and on the French Socialist Party (PS), based on the analysis of a representative panel survey; these surveys are yet to be used.

Structural and economic crises of citizenship and experiments to find a “way out” of the crisis and/or transform the political system

The inequalities in conventional political participation within subordinate groups, as well as the (sometimes invisible) boundaries in the full practice of citizenship rights, are key components in the diagnosis of any such crisis. They lead to a transgression of the division of labor between political professionals and “ordinary” citizens. Incidentally, this has been demonstrated in several studies focusing on suburban areas (the quartiers and cités): their populations do not only define themselves through an accumulation of social issues (poverty, unemployment, academic failure, relegation), but also in a way that is clearly political. The people who live in the quartiers no longer consider that the existing institutions and State intervention mechanisms support or encourage social and political integration – and so they choose to stay on the sidelines. This is the reason why riots are not a rare occurrence: they are typically the means of action of those who have been denied access to the political system and to representation.

We will also focus on the critical and normative theories of democracy, as well as the empirical study of mechanisms aimed at reviving the visibly wilting forms of citizenship that may develop within representative democracies – especially participative and collaborative mechanisms, analyzed both through a genealogical approach and empirical comparisons, and in both a national and international perspective. This will be complemented by the study of the impact and limits of new tools for citizenship that technical progress is likely to generate. Finally, the Cresppa has envisaged several studies focusing on how citizens may voice their opinions through delegation mechanisms, on the various forms of representation, and on how these modes of representation may be challenged, particularly in their symbolic dimension. This will be achieved, for example, through the sociological analysis of intellectual productions dealing with politics.

Social conditions of access to “post-national” and “transnational” citizenships

The Cresppa’s reflection also deals with how contemporary forms of citizenship may imply a broadening of the notion. Our first angle focuses on the figures of the foreigner and the migrant. Following from ongoing research, several studies will study “alteration” mechanisms, understood as the process through which individuals are categorized and labelled as unworthy of being citizens. Conversely, we will also study – especially in the case of France – the social conditions allowing mobilization in aid of migrants and foreigners, as well as the mobilization of migrants and foreigners themselves, with a focus on undocumented immigrants. Foreigners’ right to vote (in Portugal, especially) has been the subject of an investigation that will be developed using a comparative approach. Moreover, several comparative studies will be conducted in the framework of political sociology investigations on emigrations (from Haiti, Mauritania, and Europe), in a geographical context that is expected to expand.

The second main angle focuses on the issue of universalizing all rights under the notion of “global justice” and the role of transnational networks in the fight for human rights in Africa and Asia. The aim is to conduct a collective reflection on the social conditions of transnational citizenship, thus paving the way for a distanced reflection on several of its historical forms – such as proletarian internationalism and alter-globalization in its various expressions.

Social citizenship considered both trough the study of social protests and of the application of contemporary political theories (in particular, theories of justice)

The second consideration related to the broadening of the concept of citizenship aims at extending its limits not geographically, but conceptually; by reflecting, from both a normative and sociological point of view, on how to conceive and put into practice social citizenship. By “social citizenship” we mean – following Marshall and Robert Castel – the attribution of socio-economic rights, such as the right to social security.

Several studies are part of this area of research. They deal with the links between justice and responsibility and the different uses of the concept of responsibility. Other reflections will no longer focus on distributive justice but on different forms of reparative justice, especially when they are related to accidents at work or to the damages caused by past discriminations. Several researchers also continue to work on the concept of care and its recognition, on the boundaries between care and justice, and on the institutional expression of these boundaries. Finally, existing investigations, which focus on the controversy between social situations of injustice and the principles used to justify them, will be furthered.

These questions are at the heart of the long-term scientific cooperation that we have established with a network of researchers from the University of South California, United States, which revolves around the questions of “Global Justice” and promotes a critical and comparative approach of this notion. These questions also concern the cooperation between many researchers and laboratories from University Paris 8 and Paris Nanterre, in relation to the issue of spatial justice.

The study of the body and its social attributes: the scene of new citizenships and new constraints

Finally, the last question of our unit on citizenship focuses on life (mainly body and health) as an essential notion for the constitution of new political subjectivities. This is necessarily linked to the question of gender – treated as the main theme in another cross-disciplinary approach and studied here in a complementary perspective – but also and chiefly the questions of sexuality, health, etc. We will especially focus on sexual orientations, on illnesses, and on new forms of relationships and filiations: for example, the sites where governments and power technologies are politically involved, or the case of individuals seeking to give social and political existence to new forms of living.

Citizenship, thus, is approached from a new perspective. Indeed, its aim is no longer to make a particular life participate in politics – in a relationship where they are both exterior to each other – but rather to recognize the political nature of a singular form of life. The political process through which the different players may question the power invested in health institutions, or the dynamics of political organization in the world of healthcare, are areas on which our unit’s researchers intend to work. The manner in which family reproduction and family relationships tend to be defined will also be subject to collective research aiming at linking the argumentations developed by the people involved, the other means they may use, and the importance of biotechnological innovations and their dissemination.

The analysis will also be concerned with attempts to promote and give existence to a “disembodied” (or “dematerialized”) form of citizenship, on a practical and symbolic level. Some studies will thus revolve around the political uses of the Internet, and more generally on the impact of technological mutations on citizenship, and the related mobilizations they may generate.

17 October 2015