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Domenico Pizzuti, SJ - La Civiltà Cattolica - Wed, Oct 20th 2021


The Dictionary of Politics, edited by Bobbio, Matteucci and Pasquino, published in 1976, did not contain an entry on “citizenship.”[1] At the time it was a consequence of the existence of the state. It was only in the 1990s that scholars began to elaborate on the idea. In the interim, what had changed? The new political climate raised questions about the role of citizens and the very meaning of citizenship, highlighting the fact that citizenship is not an accidental, but an essential feature  of the democratic state. Attempts at definition highlight the complexity of the concept, oscillating as they do from a legal conception, based on prerogatives and obligations, to a broad and generic one that includes different principles for inclusion, to the point of emptying the word of meaning.

‘Democratic Citizenship’

A new book, Cittadinanza (Citizenship), by Giovanni Moro,[2] embodies an important piece of research, the result of fifteen years of teaching at the Department of Political Science at Rome’s La Sapienza University. Moro proposes, in an almost didactic style, the essential elements of the paradigm of “democratic citizenship” geared toward academics and the public interested in themes connected to democracy. Dense and yet accessible , the study is a reflection on the  actual use of this concept, confronting its genesis, its unresolved complexities, and its challenges.

Written in the summer of 2019 and published at the beginning of the pandemic, the book has elements which are prophetic and evocative at the same time. Prophetic, because the pandemic highlighted many issues related to citizenship: the issue of individual freedoms, the involvement of citizens in decisions during a prolonged period of emergency, their sense of belonging, their exercising duties and rights. Alongside these, the formation of a European citizenship and the integration of immigrants make citizenship a litmus test for a valid understanding of the challenges of recent decades.

These are not easy issues. The author tackles them without assuming ideological positions or underestimating the problems involved. This is a mature scholar who tackles the subject with a wealth of experience dating back to the second half of the 1970s, making an  analysis of reality the instrument with which to question theories and representations of reality itself, which are too often bound by the  seeming coherence of reasoning and unwilling to include the vagaries of everyday life.

Moro’s previous experiences, such as participating in the Active Citizenship Movement as an irreplaceable observer of reality, has led him to identify citizenship as an empirical phenomenon, a formidable tool for analyzing contemporary societies and at the same time outlining causes of the highest relevance. For this reason he specifies that in this study he uses “a phenomenological approach, or rather an approach of empirical sociology: that is to say, an approach that aims to identify and describe an existing phenomenon without claiming to be normative or prescriptive, or to state how the phenomenon should manifest itself, rather, viewing  this very gap as itself a source of knowledge.”

The book contains neither a history of citizenship, nor a review of the major theories that have dealt with it. Moro approaches citizenship as a means of serving certain functions. The primacy of reality does not obviate the need to trace a path of reflection to interpret the dynamics characterizing the social and political function of citizenship. A degree of conceptual abstraction is fundamental in order to understand the object of  the investigation, to use it, and also to help give it form.

Citizenship is neither obvious nor something that “happens,” but a condition that the members of society build day by day, “a mechanism for the inclusion, cohesion and development of societies. It enables people to enter the political community (the totality of citizens) and creates certain fundamental conditions so that the community can live in conditions of security and develop on the road to greater dignity, equality and well-being for all.”

This state of affairs is characterized by a condition of “civic equality,” according to Richard Bellamy’s definition, and is extremely dynamic and in touch with the delicate issues of today. It is therefore in the democratic context that Moro identifies the origin of academic interest in citizenship, but also the fullness of its meaning and its social and political functions. True citizenship is democratic citizenship, in which the citizen is called upon to act responsibly. Constitutional norms, legal provisions and practices are the places where it is possible to analyze the phenomenon of citizenship-in-the-making.

‘Lived Citizenship’

The book describes the phenomenon of citizenship and its functioning, its consolidation in a paradigm, that is, in a canonical model, the phenomena that have challenged it, and its current lines of transformation. According to the author, an approach linked to the reality of the phenomenon can better help to look at what is the central issue. The aim of this study is to turn attention to the real citizen rather than the ideal one, that is, to “lived citizenship.”

The volume is divided into five chapters. The first sets out the background against which the main theme of the research is treated, highlighting some distinctive elements of the modern concept of the citizen. The second deals with the paradigm of democratic citizenship, i.e. the canonical model that has become established in democratic societies. The content of the paradigm is defined in its essential elements, with reference to the three components – belonging; rights and duties; and participation – which are the essentials of  democratic citizenship.

The third chapter considers the difficulties that the paradigm encounters in contemporary societies, opting for a consideration that looks at the situation not in terms of decline but of transformation. The fourth chapter is an interlude that deals with migrants and their access to  Italian citizenship, because of the importance that  the phenomenon assumes, causing a   crisis for the paradigm.

The fifth chapter is dedicated to the transformations taking place today, in particular to the claims made for citizen status or how citizenships emerge  in reality. The conclusions consider the development of research on citizenship, the challenges to which citizenship is called to respond today, and the meaning and relevance of democratic citizenship itself.

Moro’s reflection becomes controversial when he stresses that citizenship, just like democracy, is part of a cultural process rooted in the West. Although not directly addressed, the globalized world is the background to these reflections: the universal and the particular continually merge, and the challenges of democratic citizenship can no longer be limited within the borders of a nation-state or a continent.

The exercise of an aware citizenship should take into account this and the different forms of citizenship that are experienced in other parts of the world. Immigration requires the inclusion of the  other and a change of paradigms, not only in legal terms, but also in terms of recognition and sense of belonging, expressed in shared practices. Similarly, the author refers to the challenge of religious diversity because, just like citizenship, it has to do with identity and belonging.

Lastly, it should be noted that the book refers mainly to the Italian experience and that the theme of the relationship between citizenship and democracy is not explicitly addressed.  Only  in the conclusion is it specified that the expression “democratic citizenship” limits attention to states in which citizens’ participation in public life is envisaged and guaranteed.

DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 5, no.11 art. 1, 1121: 10.32009/22072446.1121.1

[1] See N. Bobbio – N. Matteucci – G. Pasquino (eds), Dizionario della politica, Turin, Utet, 1976.

[2] Cf. G. Moro, Cittadinanza, Milan, Mondadori Università, 2020, 176.

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