The End of Citizenship? New Roles Challenging the Political Order

This paper discusses the marketisation of political citizenship towards client or customer roles. It is argued that while this is a logical effect of an increasingly complex public agenda, it also poses dangers for a conception of politics as endeavours for the collective good.

ARENA Working Paper 26/1999 (html)

Erik Oddvar Eriksen and Jarle Weigård

Increasingly there is a tendency to refer to the population of a state or a municipality in terms of clients, users or customers of the public sector and its services, rather than as political citizens. If one accepts an economic conception of politics (going back to Schumpeter and Downs), based on the assumption that political life consists of individual choices in the same way as the market economy does, this development will probably not be seen as dramatic. If, on the other hand, one understands politics as having an irreducible collectivistic core, based on the ability to separate legitimate from illegitimate interests through discourse in the public sphere, these new relations might be seen as a threatening privatization of the citizenry. While a political citizen is obliged to look for the best solution for society as a whole, a client, user or customer only has to take account of his own demands. However, the development must be analysed as a reasonable and – within certain limits – warrantable response to the increasing load and complexity of the public agenda. But still, the citizen role must be kept as the superior and integrative status in the population's relationship to the authorities if democracy is to have any meaning.

A later version of this paper was published in C. McKinnon ans I. Hampsher-Monk (eds) (2000) The Demands of Citizenship, Continuum.

Tags: normative political theory, democracy
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM - Last modified Apr. 26, 2011 2:18 PM