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HomeThe British Conception of Citizenship: History, Changes and Transfers

The British Conception of Citizenship: History, Changes and Transfers

La conception britannique de la citoyenneté : histoire, évolutions, transferts

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Published on Monday, September 16, 2013


Depuis l'apparition du terme anglo-normand de « citizen » qui désigne le plus souvent l'habitant d'une ville possédant un certain nombre de droits et libertés, jusqu'aux débats les plus récents sur l'identité nationale ou supra-nationale (Britishness, citizenship tests...), en passant par la privation durable des dissenters, des catholiques et des juifs de droits civiques, bien au-delà du Toleration Act (1689), ce colloque se propose de revenir sur les mutations de la notion de citoyenneté au cours de l'histoire de l'Union. Les tentatives d'introduire de la démocratie participative, de réformer le système représentatif traditionnel et d’accroître la responsabilité politique des élus au cours de la période contemporaine témoignent d’un désir de renouveau et nous invitent à préciser les contours de cette notion dans le Royaume-Uni d'aujourd'hui.


International Conference, co-organised by the CRECIB and by research laboratory CAS (EA801), 3-5 April 2014, Toulouse 2 – Le Mirail University, France


‘Citizen’, an Anglo-Norman derivation, was used throughout the Middle Ages; in most cases, it designated city dwellers endowed with certain rights and privileges and was virtually a synonym for ‘burgess’ or ‘freeman’. However, as early as the 14th century, the term came to designate the inhabitant either of a city, or of a country as a whole (cf. Wyclif c. 1380, Starkey 1538 etc.).  A major turning point came with the civil wars of the 17th century, which revealed that the monarchy could no longer be taken for granted, and later on with the Glorious Revolution, which saw the materialisation of political principles that had taken shape in the previous decades: the right to resist a monarch depriving his/her subjects of their liberties and the assertion of the people’s sovereignty through the emergence of a so-called Constitutional monarchy. Political modernity, notably embodied by Locke, came to be defined by such principles, as well as by ‘toleration.’ Yet freedom of worship, which was granted to dissenters in 1689, cannot be equated with full-fledged citizenship, as dissenters remained deprived of civic rights until 1829. In the 18th century, the word ‘citizen’ appeared in the political writings of Hume, who used it extensively in reference to the Republics of Classical Antiquity or to Italian city-states, his reflection acquiring a universal dimension (« A too great disproportion among the citizens weakens any state », « A continual succession of wars makes every citizen a soldier »- Essays Moral, Political and Literary, 1752). Later on, the American Revolution revived the Republican and Machiavellian tradition of citizen-soldiers. Citizenship and political liberties were intertwined, and weapons were the means by which political rights were defended. The French Revolution reinvigorated the term in Britain, thus illustrating the circulation of ‘citizen’ as a word and as a concept across the Channel.  After 1789, a ‘citizen’ explicitly designated a member of the French Republic. The so-called ‘British Jacobins’ had two chief grievances: the civic emancipation of dissenters and a broad extension of the franchise, i.e. an increase in the number of citizens (a lowering of property qualifications to take part in the electoral process; the abolition of ‘rotten boroughs’ etc.). Such demands were to be met between 1832 and 1928, with women being gradually enfranchised between the mid-Victorian period and the interwar years, notably thanks to the talent and persuasion of John Stuart Mill, Millicent Fawcett and the mobilisation of suffragettes. Even today male-female political ‘parity’ is still far from being a reality. Beyond that question, the feminist struggle continues, so that women’s citizenship may become a full-fledged, active one.

In the post-war period, decolonisation and the real beginning of (post) colonial immigration prompted changes in citizenship acquisition. While Britain opted for an open, universalist definition of nationality and citizenship for Commonwealth nationals  (British Nationality Act, 1948), France opted for a much narrower interpretation for its colonial subjects, within the framework of the ‘Union Française’ and later, of the ‘Communauté Française’. Nowadays, the question of ‘multicultural citizenship’ is no longer taken for granted in the UK, where progress achieved through multiculturalism seems to be questioned. Meanwhile in France, the right to vote for non-EU citizens (and therefore, the emergence of citizenship rights for permanent residents) is very likely to be put-off indefinitely.  Since the Cantle Report (2001), one has witnessed a novel use of ‘citizenship’ as a mode of incorporation or indeed integration of immigrants and their descendants in Britain, notably through the setting up of measures initially devised abroad (e.g. citizenship education, citizenship tests, citizenship ceremonies). Moreover new challenges to the Nation-State have appeared. They stem notably from the emergence of transnational or postnational forms of citizenship (e.g.  diasporic citizenships ; European integration ; development of transnational allegiances etc.). The link between citizenship and national identity (as shown in the on-going debate over ‘Britishness’ in the UK or in the failed attempt to launch a debate over ‘identité nationale’ in France in the later part of the Sarkozy years) illustrates the questions triggered by the integration of ‘minorities’ or ‘populations d’origine immigrée’, whether in a multiculturalist or ‘Republican’ framework. The use of different terms is by itself probably revealing, and has to be addressed. In recent years such questions have frequently given rise to unashamed attempts at political exploitation, both by mainstream and extremist political parties or groups. In both countries prevarications over the compatibility of certain religious beliefs with citizenship are not new if one bears in mind, for example, the long exclusion of dissenters, Roman Catholics and Jews from civic rights, even long after the passing of the Toleration Act (1689). Finally, political and constitutional reforms recently introduced (e.g. devolution) have given birth to diverse conceptions of citizenship (of social citizenship in particular, but also of political citizenship) in the nations that make up the UK, and according to the political parties, movements and pressure groups. Attempts to introduce elements of participatory democracy, to reform the traditional representative system and to increase elected representatives’ accountability arguably testify to a desire to renew the meaning of citizenship in contemporary Britain. The extent to which recent political reforms and pressure for further reform have led to a change in the British conception of citizenship needs to be assessed.

Papers could address the following topics:

  • Theoretical definitions and historical changes in the meaning of citizenship
  • British vs French conceptions of citizenship
  • Citizenship, radicalism and socialism
  • Citizenship, nationality and national identity
  • Citizenship and social integration, social rights, social policies
  • Multicultural citizenship, post-colonial conceptions of citizenship
  • Gender and citizenship
  • Postnational and transnational citizenship, citizenship and the EU, migration and diasporic citizenship
  • Citizenship and religious beliefs
  • Citizenship and political representation, citizenship and political regimes, institutions and constitutions
  • Compatibility of ‘citizenship’ and ‘monarchy’, of ‘citizenship’ and ‘parliamentary sovereignty’; relationship between the ‘subject’ and ‘citizen’ concepts; citizenship and republicanism
  • How parties/movements/clubs/pressure groups conceive citizenship in Britain
  • New forms of political involvement and political movements; new or alternative forms of citizenship
  • The evolution of representative democracy in Britain and its consequences on the meaning of citizenship
  • Citizenship and devolution, differences in the way social and political citizenship is conceived in the British Isles; what citizenship for an independent Scotland?
  • Extent to which the codification of law has an impact on civic rights

Submission guidelines

Please send your proposals to Vincent Latour (vincent.latour@wanadoo.fr) and Nathalie Duclos (nathalieduclos@yahoo.fr)

by September 30, 2013.

The scientific committee will publish their selection by November 30, 2013.

Scientific Committee

  • Florence Binard (Paris 7)
  • Nathalie Duclos (Toulouse 2)
  • Myriam-Isabelle Ducrocq (Paris Ouest-Nanterre)
  • Vincent Latour (Toulouse 2)
  • Michel Prum (Paris 7)
  • Jean-Paul Révauger (Bordeaux 3)

Selective bibliography

  • Deborah Cohler, Citizen, Invert, Queer, Lesbianism and War in Early Twentieth-Century Britain, University of Mineapolis Press, 2010.
  • Jurgen Habermas, Écrits politiques, Cerf, Paris, 1990.
  • Thomas Hobbes, De Cive: the Latin Version. Critical Edition by Howard Warrender. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1983
  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • David Hume, Essays Moral, Political and Literary, 1752.
  • Will Kymlicka, Multicutural citizenship, A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Oxford University Press, 1995
  • T.H. Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class, 1950.
  • John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women, London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer, 1869.
  • Tariq Modood, Multiculturalism, citizenship and national identity, Open Democracy, 2007. http://www.opendemocracy.net/faith-europe_islam/multiculturalism_4627.jsp
  • Thomas Paine, A DIALOGUE BETWEEN GENERAL WOLFE AND GENERAL GAGE IN A WOOD NEAR BOSTON.1 -, The Writings of Thomas Paine, Collected and Edited by Moncure Daniel Conway (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894). Vol. 1.
  • J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Oxford University Press, 1972
  • Dominique Schnapper, Qu’est-ce que la citoyenneté ?, Paris, Folio, 2000.


  • Université de Toulouse 2 - Le Mirail
    Toulouse, France (31)


  • Monday, September 30, 2013


  • citoyenneté, Royaume-Uni


  • vincent latour
    courriel : vincent [dot] latour [at] wanadoo [dot] fr
  • Nathalie Ducrocq
    courriel : nathalieduclos [at] yahoo [dot] fr

Information source

  • Nathalie Ducrocq
    courriel : nathalieduclos [at] yahoo [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

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« The British Conception of Citizenship: History, Changes and Transfers », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, September 16, 2013, https://calenda.org/259441

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