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Citizenship is a relationship between a citizen and a particular social, political, national or international community. Citizenship brings both privileges and responsibilities. The most common sense of the term is national citizenship in which citizens are members of a nation. Citizenship has been supposed to be a "right to have rights", that is, it's a basic right from which allows a person to have a wide range of legal rights. Citizenship has been closely associated with education. Some schools teach citizenship as a course.

The responsibilities of citizenship often contribute to the development of social capital.

Responsibilities of citizenship

Citizenship duties vary by country[1] and generally include:

  • paying taxes
  • serving on a jury
  • voting
  • serving in the armed forces when called upon
  • obeying laws

Privileges of citizenship

These vary by nation and can include;

  • rights to work in a country
  • protection by government
  • voting
  • rights to live in a country
  • holding office
  • getting government assistance

History of citizenship

Classical Western civilization

In ancient Greece, the main political entity was the city-state, and citizens were active political members of particular city-states. In Athens, citizenship was limited to adult males; slaves, foreigners and women were excluded. The obligations of citizenship were deeply connected to one’s everyday life in the polis. To be truly human, one had to be an active citizen to the community, which Aristotle expressed: “To take no part in the running of the community's affairs is to be either a beast or a god!” Citizenship meant obligations to others and to the community. It was a source of honour and respect. In Athens, citizens were both ruler and ruled, important political and judicial offices were rotated and all citizens had the right to speak and vote in the political assembly. Citizens had a higher status than non-citizens such as women, slaves or barbarians. Women were seen to be irrational and incapable of political participation (although some, most notably Plato, disagreed). Methods used to determine whether someone could be a citizen or not could be based on wealth, taxes paid, political participation, or parentage.

In Roman times, citizenship was a prized relationship which required military participation and offered numerous privileges. It was based on exclusivity; Roman citizens had significantly more privileges than others. It brought status. When Rome changed from a Republic to an Empire, citizenship widened but responsibilities were diluted, so that by the demise of the Western Roman Empire around 400 AD, almost all persons in the empire were citizens. Romans realised that granting citizenship to people from all over the empire legitimized Roman rule over conquered areas.

Citizenship in classic Asia

Within Confucianist thinking, there was less of a concept of distinct citizenship, and more of a defined social order between governing and governed.

United States

See also: History of U.S. citizenship

In the past five hundred years, with the rise of the nation-state, citizenship is most closely identified with being a member of a particular nation. In the United States, citizenship changed from active political participation in the pre-Revolutionary war era to essentially an economic and legal relationship between a person and the state.

European Union

In the European Union, the Maastricht Treaty defined citizenship of the European Union to include citizens of all European nations with the Union. For example, citizens of France are also citizens of the European Union. European citizenship guarantees a general right of non-discrimination within the scope of the Treaty and provides a limited right to free movement and residence in EU member states, and provides specific political rights as well. Citizens can move freely within the EU to seek employment.


A number of nation-states speak of a right of return: expedited citizenship for people who, by nation-specific criteria, trace ancestry to the country. These include Germany, Israel and Italy.

Some nations base citizenship on religion or ethnicity. Saudi Arabia, for example, assumes a citizen must be Muslim, but Arab ancestry is a factor. Israel, while not requiring a religion for citizenship, considers itself the Jewish state.


Today, as globalization and world trade have become more extensive, the term "citizen of the world" has been used in the sense of people having less ties to a particular nation and more of a sense of belonging to the world in general.


  1. Patrick, John J. The Concept of Citizenship in Education for Democracy. Retrieved on 2007-08-09.