ARENA Working Papers
WP 99/26



The End of Citizenship?
New Roles Challenging the Political Order

Erik Oddvar Eriksen* and Jarle Weig�rd**


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.

Introduction [1]

The growth of the public sector in modern society has led to the emergence of new relationships between citizens and the public authorities. The territorially defined concept of citizenship links the legitimacy of the state to the protection of the citizens' general political and legal rights. We have, however, witnessed a development in the direction of different types of rights. This has resulted in a challenge to the traditional basis for government legitimacy and diminished the significance of citizenship itself. In many respects citizens have acquired the role of clients, i.e. recipients dependent on benefits provided by the welfare state. They are more frequently defined as users of public institutions' services, and they are also to an increasing extent involved in customer relationships vis-�-vis public institutions, more or less as they are in relation to private sector producers in the market. Furthermore, attitudes toward the public sector seem to be changing as well. It is no longer only the more libertarian parties that use market terminology when discussing central and local government. For two decades now such vocabulary has been characteristic of the general political debate and everyday speech. This is due to new reform strategies employed in the public sector, i.e. New Public Management, based on techniques taken from private sector management theory. These reforms were effectively stimulated by the Reagan administration in the USA and the Thatcher government in Britain and is now part of the global terminology of good management. [2]

New Public Management has given rise to new forms of management such as management by objectives, deregulation, decentralized budgeting, contracting out, internal competition, and a new personnel policy based on an incentive model. One common feature of all of these reforms is the disconnection of what the public sector provides – what it produces – from the realm of political action. In addition, these reforms are based on the premise that the price on and demand for public goods are best determined if the citizens are given the freedom to choose. Finally, “production” is conducted by hived-off result units. The rise in productivity comes about by means of increasingly sophisticated information processing and organizing technologies, and by allowing political leaders more room for manoeuvring. [3]

In light of these developments, the question of whether the old model of government legitimacy and citizenship status still provides meaningful explanatory categories is becoming increasingly topical. Is it now obvious that those who claimed that politics may be sufficiently accounted for with models taken from the market economy were right? In other words, has the economic view of democracy become an adequate expression of the relationship between public authorities and society? Social scientists have for some time made use of market analogies in the study of political behaviour. At the same time, some would also claim that citizens are demonstrating an increasing orientation toward individual benefit, or egoism. For example, Albert O. Hirschman (1982) refers to a transition during the 1970s and 80s from involvement to exchange. It is the desire for higher income and more welfare that motivates the citizens in their political activity. Thus, citizen status may be reduced to customer status, and the exchange of taxes for customer goods and the exchange of regulation for loyalty become the ruling principles.

In the following, we shall argue against this assumption on the basis that the issue of legitimacy may not be resolved quite so easily. The development at the EU level in which a constitution building process is under way and already has produced a Union citizenship, also testifies to the lingering importance of democratic legitimacy based on citizenship's rights. However, this is not to be discussed in this paper, because it is obvious that the new roles represent responses to new challenges facing public authorities in their contact with citizens at the national level. First, we shall give a brief presentation of the “classical” view of citizenship and on that basis proceed to a critique of the economic view of politics. In the next section, we shall discuss the emergence of new roles that people assume vis-�-vis the authorities, based on Norwegian and Scandinavian experience. In conclusion, we shall consider the consequences of these roles both functionally and with respect to legitimacy.

The Citizen Role

In German, the concept of “B�rger” (just as its Scandinavian equivalent “borger”), contains an interesting duality which, in languages like French and English, is signified by two separate concepts, i.e. “citoyen”/”citizen” and “bourgeois” (cf. Marx 1844, Walzer 1989, Nauta 1992). The origins of the citizen concept may be traced as far back as to the ancient Greek city states, where being a “citizen” entailed membership in a specific political community from which non-citizens were excluded. The modern idea that citizenship involves individual legal rights which are guaranteed by the state, and which even could be applied against the state, would seem quite alien to the ancient Greeks. The only right attached to citizenship for the Greeks was the right to participate in the public life of the state, which was more in the line of a duty and a responsibility to look after the interests of the community – an obligation (though one assumed with pride) (Arendt 1958, Sabine 1937). The only form of individual reward to be had from this kind of public involvement was honor and respect, and such values may not be transferred into the private sphere for “consumption”. They were only meaningful in the same public sphere, among the same citizens, from which they emerged. Thus, Greek citizenship was of an irreducibly collective nature.

The concept of the bourgeois has its roots in Europe in the late Middle Ages, as new means of production and new societal forms and needs sprang up within protected city walls. Medieval cities were in many ways enclaves, separate from the surrounding feudal society. In the cities individual freedom was generally greater and class barriers fewer than in the surrounding agricultural society. Thus, conditions were more in line with the functional demands of nascent capitalism. Rights ensuring property owners against arbitrary state intervention into private affairs were an important prerequisite for the prospering of commercial life. At the same time, protection of personal integrity and private property could also be granted legitimacy on the basis of humanist ideals. The functional and normative arguments underlying such a conception of rights underpinned the institutionalization of what Hegel (1821) refers to as Die b�rgerliche Gesellschaft (the civil society,) i.e., economic life as it developed under capitalism.

These two different conceptions of the citizen may be said to be united in the modern concept of citizenship. As T.H. Marshall (1965) has pointed out, citizenship is constituted first of all by civil rights, which protect the citizen from the state. The individual may exercise these rights in order to prevent state misuse of power, and one of the primary constituents of the legitimacy of modern states is, in fact, the protection of such rights. This is the principle of the Rechtsstaat, which is achieved when and to the extent there is equality before the law. Such a system requires abolishing the structure of feudal society, with its special rights and obligations derived from the individual's status and group affiliation (Sabine 1952). Secondly, citizenship involves political rights, which allow for participation in the governing of society. This is the principle of the democratic state, which may be said to have been achieved when all adult citizens have gained the same access to effective political influence. Thirdly, Marshall also includes social rights in a concept of citizenship, i.e., rights which ensure a material safety net. These constitute the welfare state principle, which is considered realized to the extent that members of a society have the same social security in terms of health, life and welfare. Today's citizenship concept can thus be understood as a collection of rights linked to the individual, based on the fundamental principles of liberty, universalism, equality and legality.

Georg Jellinek (1911) has pointed out that various types of rights differ in nature. Civil rights may be said to have a typically liberal, negative status (“status negativus”) in that they guarantee freedom from state intervention in the private sphere. Social rights, on the other hand, have positive status (“status positivus”), as they grant members of a society access to certain goods through the state's reallocating interventions in the civil society in general and in the market economy in particular. Finally, political rights have an active status (“status activus”), as they provide citizens with participatory rights.

These distinctions, according to Habermas (1996), result in a special position for the active, political rights. They constitute the nucleus of citizenship. Only such rights may be used to increase autonomy in that they equip the citizen with the “self-referential competence” that enables him/her to affect matters which will influence his/her role in society. Civil and social rights, on the other hand, do not actually extend beyond the private dimension, in that their contribution is to secure the individual's position as a private actor. It is, however, fair to say that such rights secure the legal and material basis necessary for the realization of political rights and are thus justified. But in principle, these may also coexist with paternalistic and authoritarian political conditions in society. Only political rights of participation are of an irreducibly collective nature, as they involve the citizens in processes of opinion and will formation above and beyond their own private reality.

On a political level, citizenship rights imply an opportunity to take part in deciding how society is to be governed. But, on the other hand, they also imply an obligation to subject oneself to government (Aristotle 1962). Ideally, this is expressed through the formation of what Rousseau (1762) called la volont� g�n�rale. This is an expression of those interests that the citizens share, which in Rousseau's opinion, notably, are not the sum of or a compromise between their private interests. The general will is understood as the various special interests, united, or merged at a higher level, which gives them an impersonal and impartial nature. The general will is thus an expression of the interests of the individuals as citizens, and thus of the collective interest of a society.

A collective interest need not immediately coincide with each individual's personal interests. Ideally, however, it should be such that each individual can rationally see that the collective interest represents the best solution from the point of view of those who do not have a personal interest in the matter. In other words, the collective interest of a society must be an expression of the principle that like shall be treated like, and unlike treated unlike, i.e. in accordance with a general principle of justice. This is required in order for “the common will”, as expressed in collective decisions, to appear legitimate and thus rationally binding also for those who may have conflicting personal interests in any given matter. However, determining what is in the interest of the society at large, or what is to be considered the most reasonable and just solution, may only be done in a free deliberative process preceding decision making, in which all interests and points of view may be presented, scrutinized and criticized. The preferences have to be laundered (Goodin 1986) and the legitimacy of decisions tested in an open public debate. Thus, ultimately, it is the validity of the arguments that determines what constitutes a rational, collective will in a political context, and we can only know what the people will when everybody is heard.

The people only exist in a public sphere (Schmitt 1923:16). It is only when private individuals come together as a group that the will of the people may be formed. Thus, citizenship refers to a free political public sphere, which is the requisite means for testing the legitimacy of a governing body. The authority granted to public institutions to make binding decisions on behalf of the collective originates in the communicative relationship inherent in citizenship, as the citizens exercise their right to form a collective will. This is also the basis for present-day forms of government, though, among other things, the differentiation in the structure of responsibilities has made the process and means of establishing legitimacy more indirect and insecure. There are, for example, clear indications that “the general” is being increasingly challenged by “the particular”.

In the early stages of the modern constitutional state it was more obvious than today that issues on the public agenda involved the common problems of society. In other words, government business at that stage more clearly revolved around issues which affected society collectively, rather than issues whose consequences were felt only by certain groups or individuals. Such matters included, for example, the institutionalization of a legal system, a security system for peace and order, laying the groundwork for financial institutions and economic activity, and building infrastructure in general. All of these are very clearly public goods, i.e., goods whose individual utility is difficult to delimit once they are provided. During this period in history, the responsibility of government was, in other words, to guarantee the stabilising conditions for society. At that time, however, governments were far less interested, and able, to intervene actively in society than they are today. The individual was in direct contact with government authorities in far fewer situations compared to more recent times.

An Alternative Conception of Politics – the Economic Approach

The previous section presented an understanding of the “nature” of politics based on citizenship as a form of participation in a genuine state community, founded on certain basic assumptions of a clearly normative nature. There is, however, another important approach to the study of politics which we may refer to as the economic approach, as it imports models from the economic sciences and applies them to political phenomena (Schumpeter 1942, Downs 1957, Riker 1982). Briefly, this approach claims that politics may be understood as a parallel to economics, and that the political decision making process is economic both in objectives and form (cf. Elster 1986). Its objectives are perceived as economic because it is primarily economic issues that are on the political agenda. In this sense, politics appears as a supplement to the market, for example, through realizing public goods which would not be provided if left to private interests, or by attempting to correct the imbalances in the distribution of income which result from the free operation of market forces. The form is considered economic because, like economics, politics builds on decentralized private decisions made by the individual voter. Voting becomes the most important, virtually the only political action the citizens perform. Just like the consumer in the role as a market actor, voters are believed to choose between political alternatives on the basis of highly private and specific personal interests.

In spite of the fact that there are certain striking similarities between competition in the market and modern political competition, an economic approach still does not represent an adequate framework for understanding the phenomenon of politics. This contention may be grounded in an empirical, a logical-analytic as well as in a normative way. From an empirical point of view, the economic model can not reasonably be claimed to give a complete explanation of what political life is actually like. Such a conclusion has both intuitive and scientific validity. Research using this approach in the study of election results has shown that it is not possible to demonstrate that self-interest is a very significant factor for people's voting behaviour (Lewin 1991, cf. Green and Shapiro 1994). Furthermore, political activity is also closely linked to a medium which distinguishes it clearly from the economy, i.e. public debate, which systematically focusses attention in a collective direction. In other words, public debate is necessarily about what is good for society – the common good. It is only by arguing on the basis of the public interest that one is able to persuade others to share one's point of view. An argument referring to private wants or interests have little weight.

In the market sphere, on the other hand, things are different. Under our economic system, it is generally accepted that actors put their own interests before the common good through basic institutions such as the market and the private right to own and use property. Politics may therefore only be interpreted as a parallel to the economy if voting behaviour is considered analogous to market behaviour in isolation; that is, if one does not take into consideration that voting behaviour is related to public debate. The franchise only becomes effective when citizens' various motives, interests, needs and desires are integrated through public debate. It is only under such conditions that a vote is qualified (cf. Rawls 1971:356 ff, Habermas 1996:178 ff.).

From a logical-analytic perspective, our rejection of the economic view of politics implies that it is also impossible to imagine that politics would be able to function according to the principles that that model requires. As mentioned earlier, an economic interpretation is among other things based on the idea that politics functions as a supplement to the market and that political measures may be taken to intervene in the event of market failure. But this presupposes that politics follows a type of logic that is different from the market. Along with Rawls (1971:360), we may say that while the market is oriented towards efficiency, the main objective of politics is justice. A market economy may be understood as the mutual adaptation of independent actors to external forces in an equilibrium system. Politics, on the other hand, is based on actors' joint efforts to work out reasonable interpretations of reality and to drum up support for programs of action. As such, the market is an expression of a form of instrumental logic, while politics is an expression of a communicative logic. Nevertheless, there are also mechanisms in the political sphere which serve to relieve communication from its coordinative functions, such as the principles of legality and majority vote. These principles function in specific contexts to exempt actors of the need to justify their actions. Even so, there is a fundamental difference between the two systems in that political solutions involve a balanced coordination of the views of several actors, while market solutions are based on the principle that each individual actor acts on his own behalf and in isolation.

The economy and the political system are thus in many respects, if not completely, structured according to different types of functional logic and standards of rationality. Furthermore, social institutions that are dependent on general acceptance and trust are built on foundations of collective interpretations of reality. And these foundations are maintained not least through processes of political opinion formation. Without such institutions (e.g., the contract and statute law) to serve as a framework, strategic interaction in the market could not last. If politics were based on private, egoistic preferences, as the economic model of politics requires, not only would it be impossible for the state to function as a necessary supplement to the market by producing and allocating goods on a basis other than self-interest; the very ground under the institutions supporting the market itself would crumble.

This leads to a rejection of the economic view of democracy also on logical-analytic grounds. In general, it cannot provide a satisfactory explanation of how a qualified and broad acceptance of political decisions comes about. It is not sufficient to interpret such decisions as the sum total of, or the average of, the individual actors' preferences (Miller 1993). Such a tack is inadequate because it implies that the result is contingent or arbitrary: it could always just as well have been another. Decisions that are reached in such a fashion are open to criticism from every direction, even though they are derived from voting procedures which are correct enough, technically speaking. In itself, a majority decision just represents the will of the many, not the will of the people. In order for decisions to achieve sufficient authority, there must be recourse to their substantive rationality. In other words, there must be a possibility, if necessary, to demonstrate through open argumentation that the decisions are generally good or legitimate solutions to the problem being considered. Public opinion, as expressed through formal elections and technical decision-making procedures requires further legitimation, which implies that it must be in accordance with, or based on, acceptable grounds. Thus politics involves efforts at both interpretation and cooperation: it is therefor necessary to agree, first, on a relevant interpretation of the situation (what really is the case), and, second, it is necessary to agree on what to do about it. The particular rationale of politics is, in many respects, a matter of being able to present options as sensible and reasonable, i.e., as actions that everyone must agree to, all things considered.

Finally, an economic interpretation of politics may also be criticized on normative grounds. Politics built on the unmediated private and selfish preferences of the people would be dominated by the aggregating rather than the integrating aspects of politics, which would undermine legitimacy in the long run. If political leaders only adapt to what voters already believe, they will not be perceived as leaders, but as followers. If a representative democracy is to function, it requires a reciprocal relationship between voters and politicians. Politicians must listen to what the voters want, and at the same time suggest solutions and muster support for their proposals. It may not be assumed that good political options are pre-existent in the form of voter “preferences”, and that the politicians' job is merely to take note of those preferences (March & Olsen 1989). In most cases, such alternatives – as well as the support for them – are themselves the result of a political process.

Another aspect of the problem is that politics is anchored in the principle of justice. The principle of justice is most clearly expressed ideologically in the liberal traditions of constitutional law and the social democratic welfare state tradition, respectively. The latter is linked to the more extensive aim of rectifying existing discrepancies, and thus creating a fairer social distribution. It is difficult to see how the social objective, which is a primary part of politics and public activity as we know it today, can be promoted through policies dominated by the same fundamental self-interest which, through the operation of the market, has created the very same discrepancies that the political decisions are meant to remedy. For that reason, it is necessary that politics, through the role of active citizens, is grounded in a public sphere where it is the convincing power of the better argument that ultimately determines the outcome.

In spite of the fact that the economic view of politics seems to be untenable on the basis of several matters of principle, it has nonetheless become the dominant model for Western, particularly American, political thought in the post-war era. Several factors may have contributed to such a development. First, there is the decline of important areas of the public sphere which several theoreticians claim to have demonstrated (Weber 1922, Schmitt 1923, Schumpeter 1942, Habermas 1989). Second, and which is an aspect of the relegation of the public sphere, the formation of political parties and interest groups and the changing role of the mass media have led to a more instrumentalized politics. Political parties have become more concerned with maximizing the number of votes won than with discussing the question of what constitutes a good and just society, or how such a society may be realized. Interest organizations are designed to further the interests of a narrowly defined group of members, and to employ the means of extra-legal influence, which in turn reduce the significance of the primary political rights of the citizens. The mass media has, some contend, become just as much a channel for propaganda and for mindless and manipulative sensationalism as for investigative journalism and critical debate. Finally, citizens, through the construction of the welfare state, have been granted new rights which emphasize the administrative aspect of the public sector and debilitate the genuine role of the citizen.

The Emergence of New Roles: Clients, Users and Customers

By the rise of the welfare state, the state became an instrument of social improvement, as a parallel and supplement to what could be achieved through the market system. By establishing a number of social, medical and educational services, the public sector assumed responsibility for providing benefits in areas where the market did not, or where some individuals were unable to avail themselves of what the market had to offer. However, in spite of the fact that such social services were given a universal design, they still resulted in a division among citizens – between those who actually benefited from the government-provided services and those who did not. The majority of these services were directed at groups that had a real need for help, so that it was the sick, the elderly, the poor and the unemployed who received government assistance. These groups consequently assumed a new relationship with the state in addition to their position as citizens: they became clients of the welfare state. These people's rights as clients could be exercised in a relatively automatic way (by being defined into a group on the basis of a set of objective criteria). This mark a contrast to the case of political citizens' rights, which only guarantee the right to try to influence public policy. However, even though clients enjoyed certain rights, their role also implied a disempowered position at the same time. First of all, being labelled a welfare client entailed a certain stigmatization of the individual: these people were considered part of the consuming rather than the “contributing” part of society, hence a problem of dependency. Secondly, groups of welfare clients had little opportunity to change their own situation; they were largely subject to decisions made by various professionals and government bureaucrats, hence a problem of paternalism.

An additional aspect of the development of the social citizenship role is that local governments became an increasingly important administrative tier. The welfare state often was, in practice, the welfare commune (i.e., the municipality). [4] In this development several factors were important. First of all, it was often the local councils that were the most innovative in introducing services which later gained status as nationally guaranteed rights, e.g., retirement pensions. Secondly, it was often the local or regional councils which were given executive authority in welfare matters. This is the case for schools and day-care institutions, health and social services, and care for the elderly. Today it is primarily the case that the state has direct authority for legislating nationally standardized benefits, such as pension payments, while local governments are left to deal with areas in which the provision of services takes place through real-life contact with the clients.

As the range of services and benefits provided by the welfare state was gradually extended to an increasing number of different areas, many saw the paternalism involved in the provision of services as increasingly problematic. This is true for areas such as schools, daycare facilities, health services and services for the elderly. Today such services are an integrated part of “everybody's” normal life, which in itself legitimate their use. Those who receive them thus avoid the stigma which is otherwise easily attached to benefits which are awarded to those with a “particular need”. Consequently, they have less reason to accept the subordinate status associated with “clients”. Furthermore, the idea that the substance of such services should be determined, in detail, by public authorities without participation of those most affected does not conform to current views of democracy. Management of services may also represent a work-load problem for government authorities, particularly for local-level political bodies, whose members are part-time politicians.

The solution to these difficulties has to some extent been to move away from a perception of those who make use of public services as passive recipients of benefits to a view of these individuals as active users of them. This implies, among other things, that the various groups are allowed to be involved in the process of determining the services, within a given framework and guidelines. This has been most prevalent in the education sector, where, as a result of the radical student movement in the early 1970s, there has been a growth in the establishment of committees and boards with representatives of both students, and, at the elementary and level, also parents. This user-democratic tendency has coincided with a trend towards industrial democracy, where the employees in public institutions were also to be given a voice in matters concerning their workplace. The result of these tendencies was, primarily, a diminishing of the old-school authority associated with the positions of school headmaster/principal, or professors at the universities, but also a certain degree of increased institutional self-government at the expense of higher political and administrative authorities. Even though user representation currently seems to be less common and less formalized in the governing bodies of health and social service institutions than in educational institutions, there still seems to be a change of mentality taking place in these institutions as well. Administrative authorities, institutional management and employees seem, to a larger degree, to perceive the individuals in question more as users and not clients, and are thus to a greater extent addressing their expressed desires. The user role is in many respects an expression of a new component in the relationship between the people and the authorities, and it is based on the principle that affected parties should have a say. This in many ways implies a broadening of democracy, though, as we shall see later, a user democracy may not be immediately equated with a citizens' democracy.

The involvement of the public sector has also extended to areas other than those which may reasonably be called welfare policy areas. In contrast to welfare policy, these areas are not ones in which citizens enjoy a legal right as a result of the social component of citizenship. But they are services which the authorities – for various reasons – still consider it their responsibility to provide, and they are usually delivered in exchange for cash payment. As these programs are not usually financed through the treasury, they are also often hived off from the regular public institutions and government budgets and organized in separate companies. For the most part these organizations provide technical, infrastructure-related services, though they may also be found in, for example, the cultural sector. Some of the organizations are run by the state government, and some also have quite a long history, for example, national communications institutions such as the postal service, the railway system, the telecommunications service and the aviation services. However, the majority of these institutions are run by local governments, and they have for the most part been built up during the local government expansion period after WWII. Examples of local government organizations of this type include transportation services, power plants, water works, sanitation services of various types, land development, and cultural activities such as cinemas, theaters, and museums. Such services may be subsidized to varying degrees; they may operate on a break-even basis; or they may generate a net profit for their government owners. Since people pay in return for a specific service, their use of these services places them in a relationship vis-�-vis the government which is at least somewhat analogous to a market relationship. However, this customer-like relationship is not always perceived as real. For example, one may be required to pay a given fee for sanitation and water services simply by virtue of one's place of residence. Such fees may not be considered significantly different from ordinary property taxes by most people. One is likely to experience more of a customer-like status when purchasing a ticket to the movies, or when buying a piece of property from the local government, or even when hooking up to the local telephone service.

On the whole, public organizations have produced these services under monopoly conditions, which means that the markets for these services have not been open for competiton. But there has been a clear trend toward market liberalization in recent years in Scandinavia. This overall trend has taken various forms in different areas. For the postal and telecommunication services, for example, there has been a certain degree of private access to the market. Through changes in communications legislation, the authorities have also aimed to introduce a greater degree of competition between private, semi-private and public corporations in bus services. In the area of electricity distribution, new legislation in Norway opens up for competition between a large number of mostly publicly owned power companies.

An additional tendency towards privatization has been witnessed within a number of municipalities. These local councils have opted to allow private companies to compete for contracts to provide various services, such as sanitation, for example. Thus private companies provide services on behalf of the local government (contracting out). And finally, liberalization has also been seen in instances where local councils have chosen to demerge certain parts of the public service organisation and establish separate companies, or quasi-companies with more or less autonomous status vis-�-vis the municipality's administrative and political bodies.

The boundary between public and private economic activity may consequently seem unclear and under pressure. And it is not always intrinsic features of the public services themselves which call for public sector organization. For that reason, it is logical to ask whether the management of resources is as effecient as it could. One of the most highly prevalent consequences has been the attempt to replace management using detailed regulatory frameworks with the management by objectives (cf. Dr�cker 1976). By such an overall guideline, subordinate units are given greater freedom to choose the means by which to reach the specified ends.

According to this ideology, the public sector ends up in the role of a commodity-producing firm, and the citizens wind up as customers to be satisfied by having their demands met in the market for public services. This model is particularly relevant at the local government level, and it may be that many people primarily perceive the local government in precisely this way. Many have been puzzled over the fact that voter turnout is much lower for local elections than for national, parliamentary elections. This low turnout is particularly surprising in light of studies which show that people are generally most concerned with, and most satisfied with, activities that are the responsibility of local government (Hansen 1989). Part of the explanation may lie in the fact that most people are involved with the local government in its capacity as producer of services and less in its capacity as political entity: in other words, they see the local council more from a consumer perspective than from the perspective of political codetermination (Fevolden & S�rensen, (eds.) 1989).

* * *

The client, user and customer roles all seem to represent a challenge to the classical role of the citizen. We are witnessing an increasing number of contexts in which attempts are made to structure people's interaction with government authorities in accordance with logics which spring out of each of these roles. If these attempts succeed, what will the consequences be? Will such a development constitute the undermining of the citizen role?

The Client Role: A System of Rights

We may envisage that an increasing number of people receive welfare benefits from the state (or from the local governments), and that such benefits become available in an increasing range of areas. This may be achieved by passing more legislation guaranteeing rights to specific types of benefits. If this line of action was taken to the extreme, the result would be a public sector running on autopilot. If we imagine a point at which this system of rights is “complete”, then both politics and, consequently, the political rights of the citizen will have lost all significance. The only thing that would remain would be management of already existing systems and programs, which would be carried out by various professions and the welfare bureaucracy. The people would assume the role of taxpayers, on the one hand, and consumers of public services on the other. Such a scenario may be accounted for in terms of a functionalist system (Habermas 1987:320).

The problems inherent in this scenario appear quite soon. First of all, there are the practical limitations of a fiscal nature. There are often big problems financing today's programs and services, and hardly room for introducing a lot of new ones. The most important objections, however, are of a more principal nature. These objections are related to the fact that the citizens, in such a situation, are reduced to passive recipients of services provided by the public sector and prevented from being actively involved in the construction of this sector. Thus this model represents a clear loss of political autonomy. People lose the opportunity to participate publicly, on the basis of their status as citizens, to impact on matters that affect their own lives. Their interests vis-�-vis the government would have to be entirely private in nature. Fora which allow for the deliberation and formation of public opinion and channels for the transformation of such opinion into political programs and practical results will become insignificant. The legitimation of programs of social reallocation, which is necessary for the welfare state and is an important component of the political process, will thus be undermined. The clear tendencies toward a private-oriented public opinion, which have been observed in most democratic countries, and which, among other things, are expressed through demands for lower taxes, will most probably spread, particularly to those groups of the population who believe that they pay more into the system than they receive in return. Opposition may grow so strong that it may destroy the foundations of the system of rights and the collective consciousness underlying the extended client role.

It is, nevertheless, clear that in our society, the role of client has a justified (though limited) position. In some areas it is necessary to guarantee the rights of the individual in order to compensate for the often arbitrary misfortune and suffering of individuals and groups. Welfare rights are necessary for realizing full citizenship. An important aspect of such rights is that even though political decisions form the basis for their existence, other principles of coordination are significant as well. First, it is clear that a welfare program, as it is established as a right, is in a way exempted from the ongoing political process. Only amending legislation, not ordinary political or administrative decisions, can legally withdraw a given right from an individual. A welfare client who believes that s/he has been deprived of his or her rights does not need to travel the long and uncertain road of the political process, i.e., to try to win a majority for his/her point of view. A number of politically independent institutions, such as appeals boards, ombudsman's offices, and ultimately the courts are available in order to ensure that the individual's right to public welfare services is preserved. In a way, it may be claimed that this is also an expression of the fact that the concern for absolute democracy must yield to the concerns of the rule of law (Smith 1992). This issue is particularly topical in connection with the local and regional governments' administration of national legislation. For example, is lack of financial resources sufficient justification for failure to provide the benefits guaranteed by legislation in the social and health sectors? If it is, it may always be claimed that local decision makers could and should have had different priorities.

Secondly, we see that client rights are dissociated from politics through a kind of market mechanism that regulates the supply of welfare benefits. The authorities try to adapt their supply to changes in the demand, i.e., they try to adjust input to match the level of the clients' claims (Baldersheim and St�hlberg (eds.) 1994). One of the aims of introducing management by objectives in the public sector is to make the service-providing system more flexible and able to tune in to and respond to needs as they are expressed locally. Instead of the traditional governing by rules, which channels efforts and input in accordance with programs set at superior levels in the political system, the new approach aims at governance from below. In other words, it is the “real” needs of the clients that are to determine the allocation of resources. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with both the desire for and the possibility of realizing such a management principle. On the one hand, it is obvious that the objective of welfare policy must be to allocate funds to where the need is greatest. On the other hand, it is equally clear that balancing the various needs observed, at least at a higher level, can only be done on a political basis (Eriksen 1996).

The User Role: Privatized Democracy

The concept of management by objectives is often linked to a user perspective and a public service perspective on government. The main task of public bodies is to produce services, and to produce the services that the users want. One of the problems here is how to pick up the relevant signals from the users. Within the market economic system this is fairly easy, as this type of system has the money medium to serve as a quick and efficient reflector of changes in demand. A similar medium is not usually present with the production of public services. [5] Possible remedies to the problem may be to carry out user surveys to record people's views on public services or to have user representation in the bodies governing service producing institutions (cf. Culpitt 1992:139 ff).

The above measures constitute important contributions to increasing the influence of the individual on public administration. For that reason, they are duly entitled to a position in any system of government which, in general, is in need of more input from below. It is also clear that much of the day-to-day interaction between public providers and users has a genuinely communicative basis, where justification come into play. Nevertheless, from a broader perspective, this represents a form of limited government. In particular, it is clear that, strictly speaking, such a system only allows for the expression of special interests. It is those individuals or groups who are “particularly affected” by a certain decision who are allowed to express their views, and who are granted the opportunity to put forward their own demands, without at the same time being forced to see their needs relative to those of other, contending groups. Thus these interests maintain a private nature: they are not subject to the same legitimation demands as ordinary political expressions. Thus they may only express a limited, not a general, validity.

When the time comes to balance various interest and needs, and rank priorities relative to each other, we are unable to base our decisions on user signals alone. The fact that a particular welfare benefit or service is demanded by more people is not necessarily an unambiguous indication that this service should be given top priority from a general point of view. The political and professional decision makers at high levels, whose job it is to consider the interests of the whole, must be able to consider the quantity of the demand relative to the quality of the demand. In other words, this question involves asking how fundamental a need is for those affected, relative to how many are affected. Furthermore, such decision makers are responsible for looking after the interests of weaker groups who find it difficult to make their voices heard. All of these normative considerations, which cut to the heart of the welfare state, are difficult to incorporate, or account for, within a broad user-based perspective. This perspective is primarily useful within limited contexts, in which questions more often imply the application of an efficiency standard than a standard of justice. In other words, it is most applicable in contexts where decisions concern making effective use of available resources according to well defined criteria, rather than determining priorities among contending needs.

The Customer Role: Market Management of Public Services

There is also a growing tendency towards describing the relationship between the government and the people in terms of a customer relationship. This is particularly prevalent, as mentioned, at the local level, where the contact between the authorities and “the public” is most direct. This perspective has been accompanied by a desire for the public sector to adapt internally to the standards operative in the private sector. For example, a company group model for local government organization has been launched and partially implemented in several districts. In this model the head administrator plays the part of managing director and the various sectors are subsidiary companies (Baldersheim 1986).

We may say that a customer-type relationship exists when the recipient must pay for access to a service. As mentioned earlier, there are many examples of this type of relationship in the public sector. The issue at stake is whether it is possible to conceive of the relationship between government and the people in general in such terms, and if so, whether this is a desirable development. In order to consider the question, it is necessary to distinguish between three areas of public responsibility. The first area of responsibility includes tasks related to administration of the civil and political components of citizenship, i.e. execution of political authority in a strict sense. Another area of responsibility includes administration of the social aspects of citizenship, or welfare service provision. The third area is composed of those activities which may not be immediately linked to any specific aspect of citizenship rights, and includes, in practice, production of collective goods and public commercial activity.

As for the first area, it represents the basic domain of public sector activity. This area includes activities which are difficult to privatize or commercialize. The government can not leave ultimate control over the core legal, political and power institutions to others without at the same time dissolving itself. It may delegate the job of legal and political governance of certain tasks to private organizations or other levels of administration, but the ultimate control must still remain in the hands of the central government. And if the activities of the executive government, the parliament and the public administration were commercialized in the sense that private interests were forced to pay every time a decision was made, the result would be the transformation of these institutions into a caricature of what they were meant to be. Such a caricature already exists in many societies and is referred to as corruption. These activities are typical examples of collective tasks in a society, and they therefor must be financed through public spending.

The third area includes several tasks which have some features in common with the tasks included in the first category. Indeed, though they can not be said to represent anything like constitutive state responsibilities, they do share certain characteristics to the extent that they may all be considered natural areas of government activity. Some members of this category may also be referred to as public goods, as they benefit everyone once they are realized (Olson 1965). As a result, these goods can not be commercialized, as private business enterprises will usually not invest in their realization. Examples of such activities include various infrastructure measures and projects aimed at achieving cleaner air or water, etc. A slightly different category is that of natural monopolies. In these cases, investors may cover their expenses through customer payment, but mostly the level of investment required is so high that it is very difficult for several businesses to construct parallel systems to provide competing services. Examples here include power and telephone lines, water and sewer systems, filtering plants, rail and trolley lines. In the case of natural monopolies, it is not immediately obvious that it is the state that should be responsible for building and operating the services. But it has traditionally been considered more secure and appropriate that the monopoly be public rather than private. However, drawing the line between those tasks which, for practical reasons, must be carried out by the state, and those for which it may be possible to permit private initiative is not easy. This becomes clear from a comparative perspective, whether one compares cross-nationally, or over time. In the US today, for example, there are examples of privately operated, commercially financed fire brigades. Similarly, the “night-watchman state” is often used as a label for the period in the development of the state in which government responsibilities were at an absolute minimum. Today, with our much expanded public sector, we are witnessing the paradox that security services are a booming industry: private companies are paid to protect private property much as the publicly employed night-watchman did in the 19th century. An example of the opposite development might be the operation of lighthouses, which are often mentioned as the type of service that would be impossible to operate commercially. Even so, there was a period during the 18th century when some lighthouses in Norway were privately financed through a system of fees charged to passing ships.

But the third category also includes a number of activities which could, in principle, be left to the market, but which for various reasons are still carried out by the public sector. An example might be local government regulation, development and sale of land. It is possible to argue for a much freer sale and use of real estate, but the government has taken it upon itself not only to regulate land use and development, but also to develop real estate for use. In return, local governments charge directly for this service through a number of fees. This arrangement seemingly represent an unproblematic solution, both in terms of practice and principle. As an additional example: in most countries the operation of movie theaters is left to the free operation of market forces. But in Norway, these theaters are run by the local government authorities, on cultural policy grounds. On the other hand, local governments may choose to allow, or not to allow, private companies to compete for contracts to provide various other services such as sanitation, snow removal, or laundry and cleaning in public institutions. With the exception of due considerations to the situation of affected employees, it is difficult to imagine any objections in principle in any case. A local government's decision to provide this kind of services itself or to pay a private company to do so should be based on an pragmatic evaluation of what is most efficient. There is no point in a local government body producing a such services if private agents can do it equally well at a lower price. [6] For local government sanitation employees fighting to keep their jobs, there is no more valid criterion to refer to than that their public services are competitive with the private alternatives.

The normative problems that arise are primarily related to the areas of responsibility included in the second category, i.e., those pertaining to individual social rights, or welfare benefits. Within this category there has been an obvious rise in commercialization. This tendency most often takes the form of introducing or increasing user charges, [7] especially in the area of health and social services. Similar arrangements may also be conceivable in the education sector in the form of school tuition fees (although so far not introduced in the public education system in Scandinavia). The dilemma that arises in considering charging for such services results because, on the one hand, in practical terms it is perfectly feasible to introduce a commercial element (and, indeed, it may often seem necessary on financial grounds). On the other hand, it seems that doing so could change the nature of these services in a fundamental way. Quite simply, the issue represents a collision of the inclusionary principles of citizens' rights and the exclusionary principles of the market. Citizens' rights are characterized by their universality: such rights are guaranteed to all who meet certain objective criteria. The market, on the other hand, is built on the (from a normative angel) arbitrary criterion that only a person with purchasing power may have access to a good. The modern public sector is built on a basic recognition that the market economy produces social dysfunctions which necessitate a corrective mechanism. The welfare state model holds that the most fundamental conditions for the life and well-being of an individual be ensured by society, and not left to chance, merit or charity (cf. Dworkin 1981, Plant 1993).

It seems, then, that only in areas which are not fundamentally related to citizenship rights may commercial forms of trade be introduced relatively painlessly. This implies that the citizen role can only be redefined as a customer role at the expense of considerable loss of legitimacy. The customer role can only be found suitable for publicly produced goods which from an allocational point of view could just as well have been produced by the market. This also implies that for some publically produced goods for which payment is received, it is impossible to argue in principle against privatization in one form or another.

However, privatization may take many forms (Ascher 1987). One of the most common involves the separation of certain tasks from the ordinary administrative organization, and de-regulating them by turning them into smaller, more or less autonomous companies, or quasi-corporate organizations which are still publicly owned. In most cases the objective is to make the organizations more efficient and adaptive by allowing for simpler decision making routines, etc. This is often achieved, but local government experience suggests that many times little remains of the government's opportunity to exercise political control in such companies (Weig�rd 1993). The principles of private law sanctioned in business legislation are often in conflict with the governing principles of public law which must be followed by political and administrative organizations. But if the political-administrative ability to govern these tasks disappears, perhaps the justification for government ownership involvement also disappears. If the ability to meet commercial demands are allowed to dominate an area, then a private sector company may, in many cases, be better able to do the job than a publicly owned one.


There is a clear and increasing tendency today towards evaluating actions taken by public bodies according to criteria which originally were meant for private actions in the market. Efficiency is in the process of becoming the primary measure of quality in this sector too, while other considerations are being displaced. If such considerations are allowed to dominate public sector activity, then the government is reduced to nothing more than any other commodity producing firm, which may just as well be run privately. At risk is thus our understanding of the distinction between public and private sector activities as one of kind; that is, our belief that certain things may be traded in the market without that being detrimental to citizenship, while other things are inherently matters of public concern. However, it is also possible that efficiency considerations will not be allowed to dominate, and that they may be reconciled with traditional public sector values such as equality, accountability and control. In addition, the “difference in kind” between public and private may not (as we have seen) coincide with the division between what actually are private and public sector responsibilities. It may be that certain tasks are carried out in the public sector for reasons that are less related to matters of principle, and more due to arbitrary reasons.

Citizenship has changed over time, and its significance has also varied in different historical periods (Nauta 1992, Kymlicka and Norman 1994). Many scholars have interpreted increasing privatization and political ambivalence in modern states as a result of consumer- and utility-oriented morals. In other words, the citizens seem to show more of a passive orientation towards rights than active participation in society (Bell 1976, Bellah et al. 1986, 1991, Sandel 1996). The new roles that individuals are given may also contribute to this development, as they structurally relieves people from the necessity to consider their own needs and demands relative to others'.

This development is, however, part of the larger picture of globalization. The world order is rapidly changing due to global structures of production, trade and communication that may evaporate the boundaries of the state. Increasingly, the world is becoming one through the revolution in telecommunication, in transport and in the formation of global financial markets (Held 1995). We are witnessing the expansion of economic power, especially through multinational corporations, at the cost of political power. Depolititization is the consequence of globalization as there is an increasing incongruence between economic and political life. Decisions affecting people's life and welfare are made in contexts beyond democratic control. This means there is a decoupling between the citizens as equals among equals in the public sphere – citoyens – and citizens as bourgeois, i.e., as private persons in the market sphere. Economic globalisation makes the citizens remain private because citoyen and bourgeois is no longer members of the same community (K�hler 1998: 238). However, in order to fully assess the future of citizenship, at least in Europe, we have to take into consideration the extent of political internationalisation going on – ranging from international organisations to social movements and NGOs – and especially the initiatives to build supra-national organisations, in particular the EU. For the purpose of rescuing what originally was a European idea of securing both the private and the public autonomy of the people, the development towards a European citizenship is promising. Citizenship status is based on the idea that all members of a society function in two capacities: as private actors and as public actors. This is the quintessence of modern democracy.


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Translated from Norwegian by Sandra Halvarson in co-operation with the authors.


* ARENA, P.O.Box 1143 Blindern, 0317 Oslo. Tel. +47 22 85 59 57, fax: +47 22 85 78 32, email: .

** Institute of Political Science, University of Troms�.

[1] This is a revised version of an article published in Norwegian in Norsk StatsvitenskapeligTidsskrift, vol. 9. 1993, and in the book Kommunikativ ledelse, Bergen 1999, by Erik O. Eriksen. To be published slightly altered in C. McKinnon and I. Hampsher-Monk: The Demands of Citizenship. London: Cassell.

[2] At least according to the TINA slogan: There is no alternative.

[3] See e.g., Self 1993, Hood 1991, Hood and Jackson 1991, Pollitt 1993, Olsen and Peters 1996.

[4] At least this applies to the Norwegian case (Gr�nlie 1988).

[5] With the exception, of course, of those public services that are sold in a commercial market in competition with other producers.

[6] However, this is not to say that the authorities may as well surrender all control over a particular service.

[7] A percentage of the total cost charged to the user for a given service.

[Date of publication in the ARENA Working Paper series: 15.11.1999]