Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Global Citizenship: A Viable Concept?

Global Citizenship has a problem. Despite being a suitably high sounding thing often appearing in management literature, it has no apparent meaning: In an age citizenship has come to mean where one pays one's taxes, Global Citizenship is an empty term to be used as a feel-good, like Rotary membership in some countries. 

However, global citizenship is more than just that: There are people who believe Global Citizenship is possible. They live in a neoliberal bubble that the world is going through a transformation - being homogenous, using Internet, drinking Coke, speaking English and living the local version of the American dream and even watching MTV - and therefore, whatever is the politics, we are all global now by our consumption. 'Democratisation of Commerce' is what underlies global citizenship: Global citizens don't vote, they buy.

But, if Global Citizenship is to be defined this way, the concept is divisive and hierarchical, rather than being integrative and democratic. This is because underlying the expansion of commerce is the unspoken assumptions of culture power and dominance. It is only the opportunity to consume that should be global in this view of things, not to participate, disseminate or earn. The celebration of global consumption is accompanied with anxieties about immigration; leaders indulging in global rhetoric entertain, at the same time, ambitions of cultural purity and dominance. The limitation of the current ideas about global citizenship is thus, this - it is unfree and based on membership of a consumer community, which is deeply constraining and even dehumanising.

However, does the expropriation of the term, global citizenship, for global consumption, make the idea dead or invalid? It possibly does, as the battle for freedom to live one's life sometimes become a pitched battle against globalisation, when the local cultures which may have formed a part of our identity crumbles in the face of 9pm soap opera, and the concept of downwardly-mobile neighbourhoods enter our lexicon and our consciousness, and when globalisation means an end to all things, such as empowerment and rights, that we associate with citizenship. When globalisation and citizenship are at war with each other, global citizenship understandably appears an oxymoron.

Yet, no better time to revive the concept: As the power and dominance have become global, one can hardly be free by burying their head in the sand and trying to remain local. The same tools of power that bind us in the cycle of consumption and alter our senses of identity, can be the tools of freedom, expression and an alternate identity. The local citizenship has become meaningless with the emergence of a globally integrated elite, and the only meaningful resistance can be through global citizenship and participation. Our time may have seen a reversal of roles, when elite is global and poor is local, but effective resistance should seek to change this. 

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