Political science (and political theory) typically focus on states. 'Citizenship' is typically defined to mean membership in the state. For me, that means being a citizen of the United States.

Are there political theories which support a broadened view of citizenship? Examples could extend citizenship to businesses, religious organizations, or other voluntary associations.

I'm interested in works of political theory, not the actual policies or practices or the thoughts of think tanks or other organizations.

  • Also I'm not clear on what you mean by 'citizenship to business', etc. What does that look like? Feb 21, 2017 at 14:51
  • @DavidGrinberg - That's a great question, but it's really the domain of the answerer to describe that what other kinds of citizenship could be. About your first comment - "the state" does not mean "a state of the United States". Feb 21, 2017 at 15:06
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    Hm, I would guess that if democracy is defined to include bodies other than states then a democracy's eligible voters are not necessarily citizens, but can also be members.
    – phoog
    Feb 22, 2017 at 21:52
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    My gut sense tells me that no. After all, states are "the monopoly of violence" and they stablish the rules that govern society (laws). Even private contracts are enforceable only to the extent allowed by laws; e.g. if I decide to gift my sons (or even myself) as slaves to my Church or Corporation then the state can void the contract and even prosecute me, and the Church or Corporation have no standing against me. So, until we get jurisdiction conflicts due to a person being member of a corporation or another entity ("you cannot judge me in an USA tribunal because I am a Nestle employee"), no.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 23, 2017 at 13:06
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    Note that, at some times of history, there were separate laws for different groups (nobles, clergy, etc.) and even different tribunals for them, which probably was closer to your idea than the current situation.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 23, 2017 at 13:16

3 Answers 3


Citizens of its present 28 member-states, have, since 1992, held citizenship of the EU. This citizenship was introduced and provides benefits as follows.

Regrettably British citizens may lose theirs sometime during 2021.

Citizenship of the European Union (EU) is afforded to qualifying citizens of European Union member states. It was introduced by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and has been in force since 1993. European Union citizenship is additional to national citizenship.[2] EU citizenship affords rights, freedoms and legal protections to all of its citizens.

European Union citizens have the right to free movement, settlement and employment across the EU. EU citizens are also free to trade and transport goods, services and capital through EU borders, as in national market, with no restrictions on capital movements or duty-fees.[3] Citizens also have the right to vote in and run as a candidate in local elections in the country where they live, European elections and European Citizens' Initiative.

Citizenship of the EU also confers the right to consular protection by embassies of other EU member states when a person's country of citizenship is not represented by an embassy or consulate in the country in which they require protection.[4] EU citizens also have the right to address the European Parliament, European Ombudsman, and EU agencies directly in their own language,[5] given the issue raised is within its competence.[6]

EU citizens also enjoy legal protections of the EU law,[7] specifically the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union[8] and acts and directives regarding e. g. protection of personal data, rights of victims of crime, preventing and combating trafficking in human beings, equal pay, protection from discrimination in employment on grounds of religion or belief, sexual orientation and age.[9][8] The EU also has an office of European Ombudsman whom EU citizens can approach directly.[10]


There are more narrow meanings in other languages: The German equivalent "Bürger" meant that a citizen had the right to be protected by the fortifications of the city, or an inner fortress (Burg), in case of war. It originally referred to a city, rather than state/country.

I don't know a usage for any kind of other association; that is simply membership. Exceptions may be associations viewing themselves as a city or state, literally, metaphorically or as a game.

  • Do you have any evidence to support your hypothesis? There is an alternative hypothesis, which is that the word meant someone who came from or was otherwise associated with a town before it was applied to those who derived rights from that association. Also, citizen similarly related originally to a city rather than a country; just look at its first four letters.
    – phoog
    Nov 29, 2017 at 14:04
  • Obviously, citizen also originaly refered to a city rather than a state/country. It is not countrizen or statezen. See e.g. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/citizen#Etymology
    – Distic
    Nov 30, 2017 at 17:34

I'm interested in works of political theory, not the actual policies or practices or the thoughts of think tanks or other organizations.

Despite this, since I'm familiar with actual current and historical practice, I'll speak to that. In part, because your question is sufficiently vague that it is hard to know what you really mean and some examples could clarify the kinds of things you are thinking about. For example, I'm not sure if this 1999 book is close to the concepts you are thinking about or far afield from them, it states in its abstract:

This book . . . seeks to explore the implications of conceptualising citizenship as something which is not necessarily tied to a bounded political community. The reasons why this has become a focus for political theoretical argument in the recent past are varied. Many of them are referred to in Heater’s own consideration of contemporary cosmopolitan ideas in his book World Citizenship and Government (1996). The reasons range from the consequences of perceived processes of globalisation and increased economic and cultural interdependence and commonality across the world, to the growing significance of global ecological issues, to the growth of such trans-state political structures as the EU. In relation to this book, however, the most important impetus for argument about the concept of cosmopolitan citizenship stems from normative ethical and political concerns about the possible costs and benefits to political order, community, rights and participation of opting either for a cosmopolitan or a bounded citizenship ideal. This is the argument which is set out in the following two chapters by Linklater and Miller respectively, and around which the rest of the contributions to this book are constructed.

Whereas the role of the individual qua world citizen has hitherto been a weak and intermittent strand in Western cosmopolitan political thought, recent concentrated interest in both the theory of democracy and citizenship in the context of the state is starting to spill over to the global plane. (Heater, 1996, p. 209)

It is hard to tell.

Are there political theories which support a broadened view of citizenship? Examples could extend citizenship to businesses, religious organizations, or other voluntary associations.


One of the core political theories of this type is "nationalism" in which one or more populations, often with an ethnic or religious foundation, within a state develop a sense of community and identity that corresponds to citizenship, more or less, rather than arbitrary politically drawn boundaries.

For example, consider the concept of Ummah in Islamic political thought:

Ummah (Arabic: أمة‎) is an Arabic word meaning "community". It is distinguished from Sha'b (Arabic: شعب‎) which means a nation with common ancestry or geography. Thus, it can be said to be a supra-national community with a common history.

It is a synonym for ummat al-Islamiyah (Arabic: الأمة الإسلامية‎) (the Islamic Community), and it is commonly used to mean the collective community of Islamic peoples. In the Quran the ummah typically refers to a single group that shares common religious beliefs, specifically those that are the objects of a divine plan of salvation.1 In the context of Pan-Islamism and politics, the word Ummah can be used to mean the concept of a Commonwealth of the Believers (أمة المؤمنين ummat al-mu'minīn).

Another kind of community common in the Middle East, although the connotations get muddled in translation, is the notion of a "tribe". For example, about three-quarters of the people of Iraq are affiliated with one of its 150 tribes and loyalty to one's tribe can often be stronger than loyalty to a corrupt and repressive government that empowers your enemies, whose boundaries and formative foundations are largely a product of a post-World War I effort by colonial powers to manage the collapsing Ottoman Empire as they saw fit.

Of course, in the U.S. there are true semi-sovereign tribes of Native Americans with genuine citizenship concepts under the umbrella of the federal government. Another group of people who operate as a semi-sovereign society in the shadow of national governments of the European Romani people (a.k.a. Gypsies).

Historically, weak state institutions have led not to the idealized world of anarchists and libertarians, but instead to extended family tribal-like institutions and clannishness that subordinate members desire to express individual choice and freedom in the absence of a strong state, to clan needs for mutual protection and more. Clan institutions also undermine national states with corruption. Weak states and the strong clans that arose to fill the vacuum created by weak states were notable in the Scottish borderlands and were brought with Scotch-Irish migrants to places in the U.S. like Appalachia as epitomized in the long clan on clan blood feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

In India, the caste system is a center of identity at least as important (and longer lived) than the national government, in which your kinship and community ties to members of your jati a hundred miles away may be stronger and more relevant than your ties to people half a mile down the road. A jati is a mix of an extended family at something like a tribal scale that is strongly endogamous and membership in a hereditary professional guild.

A somewhat similar institution to a jati or an Iraqi tribe (something similar but not quite as kinship based also existed in the Roman Empire and was called a tribe), is a mutual benefit or fraternal society, perhaps most notably in the cosmopolitan bonds of the Freemasons.

Mutual benefit societies have been particularly important in immigrant communities in the United States at times when the governmental social safety net was weak. Among the most notable were the Chinese Tongs, especially in the Western United States, which, like the "political machines" of Catholic immigrants in the Northeast, often veered into corruption and gang-like activities (which a gang also being a sort of political identity and citizenship). Political machines and mutual benefit societies, in common with the political parties of the West Bank and Gaza, and in contrast to most modern political parties in the developed world, were notable for actually directly providing services to their members rather than exclusively seeking to control governmental institutions through which services are provided.

For example, these kinds of benefit societies/political institutions (and to some extent labor unions as well) might help you find work and help with basic needs when you are unemployed, might publish its own newspaper (prior to the Progressive era in the U.S., many newspapers were expressly partisan), and might directly intervene to help you with neighborhood problems without resort to governmental institutions.

Similarly, while labor unions organized by employer resemble modern political parties that simply try to influence the employer's actions in favor of workers, in industries where unions are organized by industry (e.g. acting), unions often provide health insurance, retirement plans, and leads in finding work to their members, more like a guild than an employer specific political party for workers.

The Prussian business model, which survives today perhaps most strongly in the economic organization of Japan, puts an employer in a neo-feudal role, providing far more than a paycheck in exchange for work to employees, and instead built around a concept of mutual long term loyalty between employer and employees and their families. The divide between work, play and state in this model is a thin one, for example, with the notorious Prussian Civil Code dictating matters like which day a household should do its laundry. Japan today has one of the smallest governmental sectors in the developed world, because a lot of the tasks of the welfare state, from providing economic support during business downturns to building affordable housing for low wage workers, were assumed by large private employers. Prussian efforts to integrate worker's larger lives democratically into the workplace with employer sponsored institutions was the source of the codetermination concept that puts worker representatives on the board of directors (as a minority) of larger businesses in Germany today.

In U.S. history, the two most notable efforts to develop religious communities that served much of the role of the welfare state to its members that most developed countries provided through government to its citizens, have been the Roman Catholic Church, which has developed a large parallel education and health care system, and the Church of the Latter Day Saints, which uses tithes to finance a wide variety of services and economic supports for members of the Mormon community. Zionism is another such movement.

Another important aspect of religion as a form of citizenship is that quite a few countries, for example, India and Israel, apply different regimes of family law and inheritance to their citizens based upon their religious affiliations. Thus, for example, the divorce laws that apply in India to a Muslim couple are different than the divorce laws that apply in India to a Hindu couple or a Roman Catholic couple. The same would be true of inheritance laws as well, although there are, of course, many kinds of laws to which religion does not speak or for which having multiple rules for different groups of people just would not work (e.g. motor vehicle traffic laws).

A fairly recent academic treatment of the topic can be found in the 2017 book, The Origins of Democracy in Tribes, City-States and Nation-States by Ronald M. Glassman.

Another idea might be called "un-nationalism" and is discussed in this 2015 article whose abstract begins:

This paper seeks to make a moral argument for citizens’ need to create networks of solidarity with non-citizens. Instead of concentrating on the political mobilization of migrants themselves, it thus highlights the theoretical grounds on which notions of responsibility and solidarity can be extended to ‘non-members’ within established political communities. This goes against prevalent modes of argumentation in modern political thought, where solidarity and responsibility are mostly defined in terms of shared social or political identities. To establish this alternative line of argumentation, the paper draws on the works of Emmanuel Levinas, Judith Butler and Jacques Derrida.

In general, a lot of the notions of allegiances other than to a national government are rolled into the concept of "civil society' as a such of thought in political theory. A related movement within political theory is Communitarianism and the emphasis on the social capital that communities with strong senses of membership develop. Communitarian ideologies often illuminate the political stances of Christian Democratic parties, which are the most common type of center-right party in Europe and have a very different ideological foundation than the right leaning Republican party of the United States, because, while this ideology can be socially conservative it also puts the collectively responsibility to care for everyone and not simply to let people sink or swim at the top of its agenda.

Another exponent of civil society is the notion of cooperative enterprises, one of the most impressive of which is the complex of Mondragon cooperatives in Spain.

Similar ideas were behind the creation of many rural cooperatives in the United States during the Great Depression for everything from electrical and telephone services, to marketing crops, to purchasing farm supplies. There was a political theory behind it dating back to the early days of the Republic, if not precisely a citizenship based one (although it did involve democratic ideals) as explained here:

Building on trade and social guild traditions, mutual aid and "friendly society" organizations sprang up to address the conditions of the times, and contributed to the development of the cooperative business ideas. Arguments that provided a broader rationale for cooperative organizations were articulated by Robert Owen (1771-1858) and Charles Fourier (1772-1837), who were inspired by conditions of the period to search for paths to a more harmonious, utopian society.

The more pragmatic William King (1786-1865) advocated the development of consumer cooperatives to address working class issues, and his self-published magazine, "The Cooperator", provided information on cooperative practice as well as theory. King emphasized starting small cooperatives with capital that could be supplied by its members. He stressed the use of democratic principles of governance, and the education of the public about cooperatives.

One way of parsing out parts of a state that must be handled on a large, geographical control basis v. those which can be organized differently, is to distinguish between the idea of a commonwealth which emphasizes the role of taxing and spending as a governmental function versus the regulatory state that monopolizes the use of force and more generally tells people way they can and cannot do under the law. From a budget and employment perspective, may people are surprised as how large the commonwealth functions of government are relative to the regulatory state functions.

  • "Are there political theories which support a broadened view of citizenship? Examples could extend citizenship to businesses, religious organizations, or other voluntary associations." Reading this again and seeing an entirely different way of parsing it. Are you asking if legal persons or communities in addition to natural persons could be citizens? (The answer to that is easy. Yes. The citizenship of entities and of ships and even of religious organizations is often important for a variety of purposes.)
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 29, 2017 at 21:50

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