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Reclaiming Citizenship
About Philia > Reclaiming Citizenship

Relationships matter every bit as much as rights. Citizenship means having rights, but it also means belonging. Belonging in schools and universities, in places of work and places of worship, in politics, art and commerce; belonging in family, community and nation. Our rights as equal citizens, arguably, should get us in the front door. But once we are inside, our citizen's place of belonging assures us (or ought to) that we will be valued and heard.
     - Catherine Frazee

The role of citizen is one of the most important roles each of us plays in society. Caring citizens are the glue that holds our communities together. But what does it mean to be a citizen - and more particularly, a caring citizen?

Many people think of citizenship in fairly narrow terms. You're a citizen because you're born into a country, or you've immigrated and been granted the legal status of "citizen". It's understood that as a citizen you have certain rights, and that with those rights go certain responsibilities, but that's about as far as our thinking often goes.

Citizenship is much more than that. Modern thinkers like Mark Kingwell, Catherine Frazee and Michael Ignatieff are rescuing the concept from the confines of law and government and reconceiving it in terms of participation, contribution and belonging. In this view, citizenship is not something you audition or train for, not something that's conferred on those who are deemed "deserving". It's something that intrinsically belongs to everyone.

Philia embraces this broader understanding of citizenship, and we want to join with others who are interested in exploring all its dimensions. What we're aiming at, ultimately, is a new definition of citizenship that is fully inclusive; that encompasses rights, responsibilities and access; that recognizes the importance of relationships, contribution and belonging; that welcomes both the diversity of our communities and the diversity of our contributions.

In order to imagine citizenship in this way, we need to ask ourselves some deep questions. Questions like: Who is a citizen? What is citizenship based on? What are its underlying values and principles? What does it mean to be a caring citizen? And how do we fashion a notion of citizenship that is truly inclusive?

We can't answer these questions by ourselves. In fact, we don't believe there is one answer to any of them. What we do believe is that the best and deepest answers emerge out of dialogue. So we set out to create a dialogue on citizenship. More specifically: a dialogue on caring citizenship. In the spirit of dialogue, everyone is qualified to participate. We are "equals, struggling together to make moral sense out of our role, function, and responsibilities as citizens."

Through this dialogue we want to:

  • Explore the nature of citizenship
  • Reflect on citizenship's underlying principles, and how these principles guide our actions
  • Understand the forces that bind us together in community
  • Learn how to nurture neighbourliness
  • Provide a home for views on the role of the citizen in contemporary society
  • Create a space where we can learn from one another
  • Offer the wisdom, insights and inspiration of the disability and other marginalized communities in all our discussions and actions
  • Contribute to the creation of a caring and inclusive society

Ready to begin the discussion? Click here for our basic definition of citizenship, then read a speech by Catherine Frazee on rights, relationships and their importance for full inclusion and citizenship.

The Caring Citizen

Citizenship is a way of making concrete the ethical commitments of care and respect, of realizing in action an obligation to aid fellow travellers - in short, of fostering justice between persons.
     - Mark Kingwell

Caring citizenship refers to the bonds and relationships, the network of rights and mutual obligation, that bind members of a community together as active, compassionate and contributing members of society. A number of assumptions and conditions underlie the notion of caring citizenship:

  • To be a caring citizen requires us, above all, to be in relationship with others. We cannot care in isolation - our role of citizen binds us together. As caring citizens we acknowledge our common obligation to care for each other and our planet.
  • To be a caring citizen is to share a commitment to the common good: that is, to ensuring that our environments, institutions and social systems work in a manner that benefits all members of society, and that no one is excluded from access to those goods.
  • To be a caring citizen means to be willing and able to participate in civic life, to make others feel welcome, and to remove all barriers to the engagement and participation of others, particularly those who have been labeled, isolated or marginalized.
  • To be a caring citizen obliges us to share our gifts, skills, talents, wisdom and expertise in the service of nurturing more caring and inclusive communities.
  • Caring citizens are fundamental to the health, vitality and well-being of our neighbourhoods, communities, corporations, institutions and government.

That's how we would characterize the caring citizen. But of course, there's a lot more to caring citizenship than we can fit on this page. Following are some articles and excerpts from authors who have impressed us with their thinking about caring citizenship.

Have a look at what these writers say - and then tell us what you think. How would you define caring citizenship? What are its components? What are the qualities that characterize caring citizens? And what can we do to inspire caring citizenship throughout our society?

Related Items
Becoming Citizens: Family Life and the Politics of Disability tells the stories of senior families in the Seattle disability community who raised children with developmental disabilities between 1940 and 1980. Read more...

Rebecca Beayni, a young woman with a disability from Toronto, recently made a presentation to the UN Ad Hoc Committee on the Rights & Dignity of Persons With Disabilities.
Read Rebecca's presentation

Read Lessons From an Ice Storm for Jacques Dufresne's reflections on caring citizenship.

"In order to be a caring citizen, individuals with disabilities must be in community." Click here to learn about some of the barriers to participation.

Tim Brodhead, President of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, shares his thoughts on citizenship and contribution with the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada. Click here to read his speech.

Ted Kuntz's article, The Unrecognized Citizen, shows how the language of disability can be a barrier to full citizenship.
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