July 11, 2008

Cultural Citizenship and the Importance of the Media

Cultural Citizenship and The Importance of the Media


Citizenship is something which has been under development since at least the American Revolution. For a considerable period of time notions of citizenship were based upon concepts and a history written by T. H. Marshall however this model has proved to be unsatisfactory in many ways and new concepts such as cultural citizenship and green or ecological citizenship are now emerging in response to changing societies.

T. H. Marshall's Theory of Citizenship

T. H. Marshall wrote about the development of citiizenship in Europe. He argued that there were theree aspects of citizenship which had developed since the time of the French Revolution.

Civil Rights

In the first instance there was citizenship formed around civil and economic rights. These were comprised out of the rights to trade, property rights and rights to a fair trial. Marshall identifies these as laregly developing during the course of the 18th century.

Political Rights

These were significantly developed during the 19th century and comprised of the rights to free association and the right to vote in democratically held elections. These 'rights' were of course fought for hard and it should be remembered that even in the UK a full one person one vote system wasn't in operation until the mid 1970s as there had been a property vote in Northern Ireland for the Stormont regional form of government.

Social Citizenship

This was largely a 20th century development although Bismarck established the first steps towards the welfare state at the end of the 19th century.

The British welfare state founded in 1945 wished to eradicate the five great social evils of poverty, illness, homelessness, ignorance and lack of work.

  1. Social citenship has become rooted around these areas and in the UK institutions were established to deal with these issues:
  2. The National Health Service (NHS)
  3. A standardised public education system providing education for all up until 15 (later to become 16)
  4. The creation of a mass council housing and the eradication of slums
  5. A social insurance system which provided some income for those made unemployed and also one which provided a system of universal state provided pensions.

There are issues with T. H Marshall's approach. Certainly the developments in these areas of citizenship haven't been a smooth progression and were fought for hard politically.

Cultural Citizenship & The Media

Cultural citizenship deals with the aspects of life which create a sense of being and identity within an individual and groups of individuals. This sense of social being is what is decribed as social ontology. This symbolic aspect of society is very much related to citizenship and is culturally embedded:

notions of cultural citizenship point to the importance of the symbolic
dimension of community
. Cultural citizenship is concerned with ‘the degree of
self esteem accorded to his or her manner of self-realisation within a society’s
inherited cultural horizon’ (Honneth 1995:134).
(My emphasis. Stevenson N: What is Safe? Cultural Citizenship, Representation and Risk)

What is represented in all media forms is therefore an essential part of citizenship which through combining all aspects of citizenship means that every individual is embedded in a mutually constructed system of rights and responsibilities. A society progresses so the elements within a concept such as citizenship deepen and change.

The media is now so fundamental to creating and communicating ideas, representations and senses of communities both thick and thin and the institutions which themselves may be thick or thin. With the development of a variety of web based tools such as blogs which allow for anybody with access to a computer and the internet to publish the creation of a rich electronically based public space has now become a reality which can keep developing.  This can provide us with both material and symbolic needs in which physical needs (food & shelter) interact with and are a part of cultural and social needs expressed through the symbolic which is a crucial aspect of what  the beingness of humans is. Stevenson notes against much postmodernist thinking:

...that notions of cultural difference are not incompatible with with the more normative emphasis of a theory of human needs. (Stevenson 1995 p 197)

The social theorist Nancy Fraser has argued that cultural recognition in terms of identity and representation, whether that be by ethnicity, gender etc must be accompanied by wealth redistribution if it is to be a meaningful right. If people are poverty stricken then to have abstract rights of representation is largely meaningless.

Social theorists  are trying to arrive at a formulation which sees representation and the symbolic world as an important area for the development of individuals as citizens for the various aspects of media are the key platforms and opportunities for representation. The social aspects of citizenship such as education are tied into cultural citizenship information streams adn opportunities for interactive representation. This means that media content and control is far too important to the well-being of advanced societies to allow it to becoem commercialised.  Without a good media system people would lack, information, education and representation.

Stevenson (1995 p 198) for example has identified four different kinds of human need that have a relationship between culture and communication:

      • The need for knowledge about the operation of expert cultures
      • The need for an understanding of the desires, demands and need interpretations of others who are distant in time and space
      • The need to understand ourselves as a social community
      • The need for aesthetically and non-instrumentally defined cultural experiences

      It seems to me that theses are the fundamentals underlying a public service broadcasting system. Theses are the reasons why everybody who has any sense of citizenship must rally behind the BBC and its licence fee as the full digital age dawns. Any compromise inevitably betrays the weakest in society by throwing to the slick talking media dogs whatever platform they are pushing. Can we improve the BBC? Of course but lts do that from the strong base that has evolved so far.


      Oxford University Synopsis. History of Welfare State

      Political Culture Thick and Thin

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