Global Citizenship Towards a Definition

While various types of global citizens exist, a common thread to their emergence is their base in grassroots activism

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While various types of global citizens exist, a common thread to their emergence is their base in grassroots activism. We may identify different types of global citizens, yet many of these categories are best summarized by their emergence despite a lack of any global governing body. It is as if they have spontaneously erupted of their own volition.

Falk (1994) identified five categories of global citizens which he named as,

  • global reformers

  • elite global business people

  • global environmental managers

  • politically conscious regionalists

  • trans-national activists

With the exception of global business people, the other categories have grassroots activism at their core. i If the Battle in Seattle is an applicable demonstration, these activists are responsible for their own activism rather than “granted” by an institution. This earmarks global citizenship as qualitatively different from the national variety, where rights and obligations came (even when fought and protested for) at the behest and generosity of the state. With global citizenship, individuals exercise communicational and organizational tools such as the Internet to make themselves global citizens. No government sanctioned this development. None, it seems, could.

Jacobson (1996) noted this fracture of the state as dispenser of citizen rights and obligations, although he sees the decline of overall citizenship as a result. Keck and Sikkink (1998) on the other hand, regard such global activism as a possible new engine of civic engagement. These global activists, or “cosmopolitan community of individuals” (p. 213) as they call them, transcend national borders and skillfully use pressure tactics against both government and private corporations that make them viable actors on the emerging global public sphere. A striking example of this pressure is the well-publicized anti-sweatshop campaign against Nike. Literally dozens of websites are devoted to exposing Nike’s labor practices in manufacturing shoes in overseas factories. In 1996, with the aid of Global Exchange, a humanitarian organization that later helped to organize the Battle in Seattle, Nike’s labor practices became the subject of increasing mainstream media attention. In the process, Nike was linked to sweatshop labor, a label it has tried to shed ever since.

Is the Internet central in the development of these emerging global activists? The Internet and other technologies such as the cell phone play an instrumental role in the development of global activists, as do easy and cheap air travel and the wide use and acceptance of credit cards.

But there are other forces at work: decline in civic engagement, rise of lifestyle politics, homogenization of products, conglomeration in media systems and communicational tools that let us know more about each other than ever before. Add to the mix the rising concern for universal human rights and for trans-global problems such as environmental degradation and global warming, the result is a landscape that tends to be more global than national. This is not the first time in the history of our civilization that society has been “internationalized,” but never has it been easier for average citizen to express herself in this globalized fashion – by the clothes she wears, soda she drinks, music she listens to (e.g. “world music”) and vacation land she visits. It is increasingly obvious that our identities, as Lie and Servaes (2000) and Scammell (2001) suggest, are tied to our roles as citizens. Scammell’s “citizen-consumers” vote with their purchases and are engaged in their communities to the extent they have the freedom to shop. Engagement, in this modern sense, is as audience members at a play clapping at the high points of drama. Can we say this is true of global citizenship? The evidence is scanty to make such judgment; if global activists are replaced by global citizens-consumers the sea change will be complete.

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