I don’t really know how this happened but three months ago (and wow, has it been THREE months) I landed myself a job as a curriculum designer. Armed with a few (ancient) blog entries, two-three academic essays and one CV, I apparently gave the impression that
a) I knew children (which…um, I really, really don’t!)
b) I knew something about education (well, if you count 14 years of schooling I do!) and
c) I knew enough about local government and citizenship to well…write a book on it! (hah. OK then!)
However, in the process of getting into the mind space of writing a children’s book in three months, I have managed to learn quite a lot about all of the above. Well, except for maybe the children bit! BUT I’m working on it…
Mostly, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the nature of ‘Active citizenship’. It is probably because that’s ALL I’ve been writing and thinking about and while I don’t find it ‘problematic’ as such, I do believe that we need to really think about it before slinging it around casually (quite like how it’s being done these days!)
Active Citizenship is often positioned as the fourth pillar of democracy – one that has traditionally been the placeholder for institutions like media and academia. In this paradigm however, active citizenship comprises of these elements and also includes (besides these two) civil society organizations, think tanks and well, ordinary citizens! The underlying philosophy is that of participation – thereby any institution or structure which facilitates participation thereby promotes democracy. Being the fourth pillar – active citizenship then doesn’t come under the umbrella of governance but resides as an outside entity which plays mostly a monitoring role. Talking as a regular citizen – my job would then encompass two roles:
- Knowledge of what my rights are, what services I am allowed to have and my boundaries of access
- My duty and responsibility to make sure that I and other citizens like me are getting what we are allowed to have.
The basic assumption then is that the systems and structures which exist currently are inherently good and fair – where we lack is in implementation. The problem area is the bureaucracy. And as citizens, we need to be able to fight and reform this to get what we need to have a good quality of life. Active citizenship is then more-or-less status quoist, a belief that the system is not bad but the delivery is a problem.
It is at this point that I have some issues, like I often have with most status quoist approaches. I am quite the (armchair) radical and there are some issues which I do get up-in-the-arms about and this has become one of them. Because we are looking at a system which does not have inherent inequality, which I think we can all agree on, is not the case with ours!
A small aside: As a student of Criminology, I was often told that one way in which we can change the system is from ‘within.’ That is because the system is, by nature, wary of outside interference. Become one with the system and slowly rearrange (unscrew!) the elements so that it resembles something else. The radical view (taken by many of my friends studying caste, tribe and gender) was to shut down the current one (but replace it with something else). Two approaches to the same end?
My point is: we need to move from active citizenship to something which is more transformative in nature. Something where all of us recognize the inherent inequality that we live with today and take proactive action to change it (whether within our own individual spaces or systemically). I believe that the push for transformation can come both from within the system and externally. It is only then that citizenship really becomes meaningful, because this process will demand our full participation.
And for the ‘how’? Watch this space!