Rights and Responsibilities: Different Perspectives Citizenship and Social Policy

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Citizenship is an ongoing discourse regarding the rights and responsibilities concerning the individual and their relationship with communities they inhabit, which are often being discussed in our contemporary society. I will review the three ‘competing visions’ (Alcock, P., May, M., and Wright, S. 2016) of citizenship, then elaborate upon the implications that the different perspectives pose regarding citizenship and social policy.

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The first vision of citizenship is concerned with the relationship between an individual and the communities they reside in. The second vision on citizenship, besides recognising the importance of rights, emphasises that citizens are ‘also bearers of certain responsibilities’ (Alcock, May, Wright, 2016). However, the third vision of citizenship states that by validating membership of a community it enables citizenship to be scrutinised, due to the questions it raises regarding inclusion and exclusion.

Pertaining to this point, exclusion regarding citizenship includes both internal and external dimensions. Internal dimensions of inclusion are concerned with how aspects of individual differences, (such as gender, ethnicity, and disability) are expressed, in ways that may rebuff individuals (as citizens) access to their full rights. Whereas, exclusion regards those individuals beyond bordered communities who are refused a citizenship status. Yet,

It can be argued that in our neo-liberal society, a legal prerequisite of citizenship invokes a passport claiming an individual’s right nation-state. Rather than the emphasis placed on an individual’s contribution, to the political and social life of their community.

When discussing matters considering citizenship it is important to note the political philosophy it is attributed to. I will be reviewing communitarian and liberal visions of citizenship- where the opposing views regarding the importance of an individual and the community will be highlighted.

Contemporary communitarianism as a perspective on citizenship and policy, stresses the importance of community. Key aspects of communitarian citizenship focus on the development of shared values and collective commitment which enhance social solidarity (Durkheim 1893). Plant (1998) argued that communitarian citizenship implies that the status of citizenship can only be achieved through participation and devotion to wider communal responsibilities. This suggests that citizenship is seen as a practice, where it is achieved through active engagement in social and political participation.

Whereas, liberalism is asserted with full individual rights and ‘freedom from’ from state interference, for all citizens. Citizenship is seen as a legal status that initiates entitlements and unconditional rights for all individuals. This approach to citizenship ensures a universal passage of freedom to be enjoyed by all individuals, compared to communitarian views as they argue privileges of citizenship should only be reserved for ‘native and responsible citizens’.

Drawing upon early communitarianism, new communitarians like Etzioni have played a pivotal role in influencing governments to introduce a more restricted yet contingent approach to citizenship. This would require the access to basic, public welfare entitlements that would only become available to citizens who met the requirements; by meeting compulsory duties, responsibilities and by exhibiting ‘agency behaviour’ (Alcock, May, Wright, 2016). As explained above, the new communitarianism approach to citizenship differs from early communitarianism as it incorporates a constrained legal system where conditions must be agreed upon, prior to receiving benefits of a citizen.

It should be noted that both approaches to citizenship may have still marginalised groups who could not actively participate in either social or political aspects of their community due to internal exclusions. Feminists would argue that a prime example of this, were women. As during these epochs of changing social theories, women were not granted access to social aspects of their community neither were they given political rights until the 20th century.

Yet, neither approaches discussed so far tackle issues concerning gender, ethnicity, and disability. Although the liberal perspective induced freedom from state intervention, promoting rights and entitlements to all individuals, minority groups were not accounted for. Perhaps suggesting that social policies concerning citizenship were in favour of the majority middle-class, white and able-bodied individuals, as they possessed the capital and cultural means to partake in social and political affairs.

Feminist critics on citizenship and social policy, reveal how citizenship prior to the 19th century was seen as ‘quintessentially male’ (Lister, 2012). She states that women have been excluded and denied citizenship through the lack of rights they weren’t entitled to. Historically, males have always been granted and inherited social and political freedom, as compared to women. Lister (2012) reveals how citizenship as a theory and practice in previous societies was a force for inclusion and exclusion against women. Much of this was due to the public-private dichotomy as males’ position in the public side displayed the essential qualities of a rational, independent and political citizen. Whereas women in the public sphere, were unable to portray the qualities desired to be a citizen. As it wasn’t until 1918 that women over the age of 30 were granted the right to vote for the first time in the UK. Pateman (1989) noted how women were often marginalised from becoming active citizens due to their restricted roles in the private sphere. Where their roles and duties were regulated by societal norms and misogynistic ideology, therefore being perceived as incapable of obtaining qualities of citizenship.

On the other hand, feminists state how women in the private sphere participated in certain responsibilities such as unpaid care work in the home, which weren’t recognised in the public sphere as an act or obligation of a citizen. Pascall (1993) stated how this undermines the work and responsibilities, that women performed in the private sphere and how policies failed to recognise these acts as citizenship responsibilities. This raises issues towards the claims to citizenship that are based on communal duties.

As a result, in order to accomplish the ‘re-gendering’ (Lister 2012) of citizenship, policies need to be initiated. Such as promoting the political participation of women and care being recognised and valued as a civic obligation. However, this would imply radical change on the feminist front, to ensure that the social rights of women can be acknowledged in citizenship policies.

Nonetheless, during the post-war period, Marshall (1949) founded the social liberal theory on citizenship- which draws upon early classical liberal ideology. The movement to establish social rights as an entitlement to citizenship is what makes the social liberal perspective distinctive to previous liberalism. Marshall’s (1949) initiative to incorporate social rights alongside civil and political rights ensured a universal form of citizenship. This meant that individuals would be entitled to an ‘equality of status’ (Marshall, 1949) which would enable equal access to all registered citizens. The ‘equality of status’ meant that all individual citizens who shared their common rights and duties could be educated on social issues such as housing and healthcare, via established institutions. This resulted in minimising inequalities amongst social groups that were perhaps reproduced by the capitalist economy.

This new status guaranteed, that their social rights would provide them with the ‘limited measure of material equality’ to meet their needs, despite the paid labour market.

This egalitarian perspective of social liberal citizenship granted access for all citizens to claim social rights to housing, healthcare, and social security. This was achieved through embedding citizenship rights, by the establishment of social institutions during the post-war welfare state. Marshall’s triad of social rights (to welfare services), incorporated with civil and political rights ensured the liberty of citizens and ‘freedom from’ (Lister, 2012) arbitrary governmental power. As this implied that all rightful citizens, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, and disability would be permitted with equal rights and access to welfare services. The contemporary social liberal perspective, on policies concerning citizenship successfully alleviated marginalised groups, as their social rights enforced their citizenship status in society.

Furthermore, the policies on citizenship implemented by the social liberal vision affirmed women’s position in the early 20th century, as women were then able to actively exercise their political capacities due to their social rights. Through the re-gendering of citizenship, women were then able to embrace their individual rights (as well as social and reproductive rights) and were able to support or revoke political affairs. They were able to exercise their full rights as citizens after The Representation of The People Act in 1928. The combined access to citizenship as participation through their active expression in the political arena and citizenship as rights, women were then finally recognised as citizens with full individual rights.

In summary, the main implications surrounding social policy of different perspectives on citizenship was concerned with marginalised groups. As discussed previously, depending upon a nation’s citizenship requirements, certain groups were internally and externally excluded from their rights. This was due to the current social epoch of the time- which previously excluded social groups of women, ethnic and racial minorities.

However, policies regarding citizenship were most liberating during the social liberal era, as it introduced the legislation of access to social rights for all individual citizens. This included women who faced the most scrutiny, regardless of their class status, ethnicity, and race- following the success of women’s suffrage in the early 1900s. The introduction of social rights played a pivotal role in policies of citizenship as it began to reduce inequalities that marginalised groups faced.

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As Bubeck (1995) suggested that through the focus on citizenship obligations that are bestowed upon individuals, it revises the conception of citizenship whereby each individual’s performance and contribution to society can become a ‘general citizens obligation’. Therefore, achieving a shared effort and vision for individuals to become liberated citizens who maintain and freely exercise their rights and responsibilities, not only for themselves but also to the wider community.


  • Alcock, P., Haux, T., May, M. and Wright, S. (2016). The Student's Companion to Social Policy. 5th ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, p.(Ch.7).
  • Durkheim, É., Lukes, S. and Halls, W. (2013). The division of labour in society. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
  • Lister, R. (2012). The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Political Sociology. Wiley-Blackwell, pp.Citizenship and Gender (pp.373-382).
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Rights And Responsibilities: Different Perspectives Citizenship And Social Policy. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2023, from
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