Citizenship Denationalized

63 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2000


The premise that citizenship is necessarily a national enterprise finds much support in conventional political and legal thought. The view was perhaps most famously articulated in this century by Hannah Arendt, who wrote that a citizen "is by definition a citizen among citizens of a country among countries. His rights and duties must be defined and limited, not only by those of his fellow citizens, but also by the boundaries of a territory..." But is citizenship, in fact, inextricably bound up with the nation-state?

The question of where citizenship can be said to "take place," and in particular, whether it can, and should, be said to exist beyond the boundaries of the national state, is beginning to surface in the recently revitalized debate over citizenship in political and social and legal theory. In the past few years, a handful of scholars and activists have announced the growing inadequacy of exclusively nation-centered conceptions of citizenship. Citizenship is becoming increasingly denationalized, they have argued, and new forms of citizenship that exceed the nation are developing to replace the old. They have coined phrases for these alternatives: "global citizenship," "transnational citizenship," "postnational citizenship."

Despite the charges of various critics, I contend in this paper that such arguments are neither incoherent nor undesirable in principle--though some formulations are more convincing than others. Rather, it seems to me both sensible and worthwhile in at least some circumstances to talk about citizenship in ways that locate it beyond the boundaries of the nation-state. Doing so does not necessarily mean embracing a classical cosmopolitan creed; neither does it require a complete repudiation of national conceptions of citizenship. It means, rather, an acknowledgement of the increasingly transterritorial quality of political life, and a commitment to a vision of citizenship that is multiple and overlapping.

Of course, determining whether conceiving of citizenship beyond the nation-state is coherent and/or worthwhile depends a great deal on our understandings of citizenship itself. As it happens, the meaning of citizenship has been, and remains, highly contested among scholars. The term has an extraordinarily broad range of uses; it is invoked to characterize modes of participation and governance, rights and duties, identities and commitments and statuses. I argue in this paper that the struggle over the concept of citizenship beyond the nation-state is, in this respect, ultimately a struggle over the meaning of citizenship tout court. This is a struggle that matters because citizenship is a core concept in our political and moral and legal vocabularies. And such concepts, we now know, are not merely descriptions of the social world; they are an integral part of its fabric. There is a great deal at stake, therefore, in the way we use the term citizenship. The apparently oxymoronic notions of trans/postnational/global citizenship challenge conventional presumptions that the nation-state is the sole actual and legitimate site of citizenship.

Suggested Citation

Bosniak, Linda S., Citizenship Denationalized. Available at SSRN: or

Linda S. Bosniak (Contact Author)

Rutgers University School of Law ( email )

Fifth and Penn Streets
Camden, NJ 08102
United States
856-225-6403 (Phone)
856-225-6516 (Fax)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics