Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996


Citizenship Today: The contemporary relevance of T. H. Marshall

Martin Bulmer and Anthony M. Rees (editors)
London: UCL Press
ISBN 1 85728 472 0
306 pp.

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In 1949, T. H. Marshall wrote a whiggish story with a happy ending about citizenship. His basic idea was simple: implementation of eighteenth century civil rights in England required the extension of political rights in the nineteenth century and then social rights in the twentieth. In retrospect the theory seems somewhat naive but is now experiencing something of a revival. Does Marshall's model have anything left to offer? Most of the essays in this new collection argue that it does. Taken from Southampton University's Marshall Lectures from 1983-1995 (only a few of which have previously been published) the collection promises to re-examine Marshall in order to understand contemporary citizenship.

We might have expected a thorough review of his framework. What we have, however, is a fragmented collection of often brilliant individual contributions, but no concerted attempt to develop Marshall's model for the contemporary world.

The main phenomena of the past half century which challenge Marshall's model and which have exercised the minds of the authors in the volume are globalization and the crisis of welfareism. Other themes, which they saw as less important, are changing technology, new forms of class division, and the increasing importance of ethnicity in relation to class.

Marshall took the nation-state as a given in his analysis. Ireland is strangely absent in his England centered account, and he saw the progress of citizenship over class conflicts as a process with its own internal dynamic. Even if we accept that this was feasible in the period studied by Marshall, it is no longer tenable, according to Dahrendorf, Hewitt, Giddens, Mann, Newby and many of the other contributors. Whereas Giddens and Hewitt point to the increasing mobility of capital that reduces sovereignty and makes welfare problematic, Michael Mann, (in his already well-known piece) focuses on geopolitical questions. In particular he is concerned about the fact that citizenship regimes do not die of natural causes, but tend to end when they are brought down in wars. (This is a criticism of the functionalism of Marshall's account.) Other authors such as Dahrendorf argue for the importance of nationalism and liberalism as conditions for the emergence of rights and civil society, although none go to the lengths of recent authors such as Soysal (1994) who show that rights claims are increasingly legitimized in reference to a globalized discourse on human rights, which hollows out the substance of national citizenship by decoupling rights from national membership.

There are amongst the contributions, however, various strategies for denationalizing Marshall's framework. Howard Newby rereads Marshall in terms of the new concern for the environment in order to ask how the framework can be reworked to apply on a global basis. Patricia Hewitt offers convincing arguments against the neoliberal claim that globalization renders welfare unworkable as increased social costs cause capital flight. The very idea that there exists an antagonism between social rights and economic efficiency she regards as unrealistic, and suggests that we must rethink our view of social rights in the globalizing economy. Rejecting the idea of a citizen's income she stresses the possibilities of more personalized pension and insurance schemes. Ronald Dore makes an opposite proposal, examining the impact of technological changes on the labour market, and welfare rights, and discussing the potential and citizenship implications for a basic social wage.

Janet Finch explores relations between public policy and the family. A fascinating account of the assumptions and implications of welfare for the family, but not directly related to Marshall's work. Ralph Dahrendorf explores Marshall's central theme of the relevance of class in a period where citizenship has conferred one universal equality of status on all citizens. He links marxian notions of class conflict with Marshall's theory, seeing the relationship between citizenship and social class in terms of a broader 'struggle for life chances.' He uses Marshall's story of the progression of national citizenship to join the normative debate on the uses of nationalism, arguing that: 'Historically at least, the nation-state was as much a necessary condition of progress as it unfortunately turned out to be a source of regression and inhumanity. The alliance of nationalism and liberalism was a force for emancipation' (p. 29). Nationality and citizenship for Dahrendorf are intertwined, since 'not the least advantage of the nation- state was that it generalized the ancient idea of citizenship' (p. 30). The link between this and Dahrendorf's calling for a global civil society need some development, however.

W. G. Runciman reviews Marshall in context asking 'why social inequalities are generated by social rights', and reviewing some by now familiar neoliberal criticism of the dynamics and contradictions of welfare states. He is quite critical of Marshall and unpicks his simplified assumptions regarding the extension of citizenship. Particularly problematic for Marshall, he argues, are the practicalities of running a comprehensive education system for a specialized labour market, and the emergence of an unproductive, state-dependent underclass. The welfare system as a whole, 'even at its most apparently consensual was being attacked from the Right as stifling personal freedom and from the Left as perpetuating capitalist control of the means of production; and both Left and Right came to see that maintenance of the level of universal welfare benefits depended on increasing subsidization by the productive of the unproductive.'

Anthony Giddens like Daherendorf and Hewitt, picks up the theme of globalization. He takes the lecture as an opportunity to restate his work of the past decade on time- space distanciation, detraditionalization and reflexivity. In particular he takes Marshall's work as a background against which to assess theories of democratization. The links to Marshall, however, are never quite clear, except in the assertion that these processes were missed out by Marshall. Perhaps the most promising contribution that Giddens could have made to a reassessment of Marshall would have been for him to reassess Marshall in terms of problems of 'localization' and of the end of the nation-state. Giddens simply mentions these problems, however, and does little to resolve them.

Michael Mann is perhaps the most critical of Marshall's account which he sees as Anglophile and evolutionary. Taking up Marshall's often explicit normative position of support for reformist liberalism he argues for attention to geopolitics in relation to citizenship's response to class struggle. He regards 'the British strategy of citizenship' as only one way of taming class conflict, among others such as liberal, reformist, authoritarian monarchist, fascist and authoritarian socialist. these were not necessarily better ways of containing the rise of the bourgeoisie, he argues, but these regimes were less successful at winning world wars. They did not die of natural causes, he argues, they were assassinated. Therefore the evolution implicit in Marshall's schema is, for Mann an illusion: 'Sociologists are prone to forget that "evolution" is often geopolitically assisted'.

Mann's account reads as slightly dated, because of its concern with the cold war. Surely what Mann termed authoritarian socialist regimes were not assassinated in wars, but died from natural causes (particularly due to their inability to deal with claims arising from civil society). The overall argument, however, is well put and very strong: We should beware the tendency to evolutionisms in Marshall and look at endogenous factors.

James Meade explores the 'perverse effects' of welfare, the only economist in the collection. A. H. Halsey takes a historical approach to Marshall, describing the milieu from which he came, and developing an account of the making of ethical socialists such as Marshall. John Goldthorpe also takes up the theme of history, not looking directly at Marshall's theory but using it to examine the relationships between the disciplines of History and Sociology. Ronald Dore reads Marshall in terms of a concern with the right to equal dignity, and the more general problem of egalitarianism in terms of ideas of recognition and the distribution of dignity, in terms parallel to Michael Young's famous concerns about meritocracy. This he discusses in terms of the problem of structural unemployment. He calls for a kind of minimum wage to be provided in the dignity economy. W. J. Wilson does not engage directly with Marshall's work. He introduces an excellent ethnography of the underclass, but does not mention citizenship theory as a problematic.

Most of the discussion of Marshall's framework remains within the parochial British, even English debate, despite the widespread criticism of Marshall's English ghettoization, and despite the fact that there has been a considerable interest in Marshall, outside Britain, particularly in the U.S. and Italy. What the editors might have done was place the lectures within the broader, and much more vital debate that is currently raging about Marshall. That would open Marshall's theory up to some much more probing criticism, and a more useful account of what is left of Marshall may be made.

Perhaps the lack of an overarching theoretical discussion of Marshall's work reflects the ongoing problems with it. The authors are often too deferent to Marshall, and do not bring up the problems inherent in his work, notably the vagueness regarding the status of the theoretical scheme. Is the three stage model of civil, political and social rights an explanatory hypothesis, or an ideal-type periodization? This was never made clear by Marshall, and this confusion is echoed in this collection.

The collection could have been made more coherent by excluding those lectures that did not engage theoretically with Marshall (Giddens, Finch and Wilson, for example) and including a more thoroughly analytical section in the conclusions. If we are disappointed to find a comprehensive reworking of Marshall for the current period, this may not be the fault of the authors. It may be that Marshall's work, although very enlightening for a certain modern and self-confident period in English national history is not to be recuperated for a globalizing, fragmenting world. Marshall's assumptions, tenuous and wishful even in his time, are now even harder to sustain.

Damian Tambini
Institut Universitaire Europeen, Florence


Soysal, Yasemin Nuhoglu (1994). Limits of Citizenship: Migrants and Postnational Membership in Europe. Chicago: University of Chigaco Press.

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996