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Marshall’s Theory of Citizenship

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 4169 words Published: 20th Feb 2019

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Marshall’s theory of citizenship and its relevance in Britain in 2017


Marshall’s citizenship theory is concerned with social rights, education, and voting. Marshall’s theory on citizenship is compatible with Britain in 2017 due to the fact that schools are influenced by ideological, economic, and cultural forces, and citizenship considers the way in which education functions in class formation, struggle, capital accumulation, and the legitimation of the privileges of dominant groups (Apple, 2017:4). In fact, there is no doubt that schools are institutions of economic and cultural reproduction (Apple, 2017). Similarly, Marshall (2009:149) opines that the institutions most closely connected to citizenship and civilisation are the educational system and the social services. Citizenship has also raised questions on the sense of social solidarity and integration in any given community (Turner, 1990). Thus, citizenship, and every idealised version of it, holds relevance today. Marshall’s theory in particular, has relevance in 2017 due to the fact that there are several distinct forms of citizenship, and each can be understood by taking Marshall’s vision of citizenship as a whole, rather than a sum of parts.

Turner (1997) notes that society is faced with two contradictory principles: scarcity and social solidarity. Scarcity results in exclusionary events such as gender divisions, social classes, and status groups, whilst social solidarity requires cohesive community structures, regardless of one’s social standing (Turner, 1997). Gender divisions are the one area that Marshall’s theory on citizenship fails to consider.

In addition to the above characteristics of Marshall’s theory, Marshall’s theory on citizenship considered legal rights as the first form of citizenship (Turner, 1997). In the 19th century, political rights and their institutionalisation in parliament was Marshall’s second notion of citizenship (Turner, 1997). Next, Marshall believed that citizenship was related to social rights, and that those social rights were institutionalised in the welfare state (Turner, 1997). When considering these three forms of rights, Marshall argued that citizenship mitigates the inequalities created by capitalism (Turner, 1997:11). Marshall referred to modern industrialist capitalist societies as ‘hyphenated societies,’ due to the fact that such societies have some degree of democratic redistribution of wealth through the institution of citizenship.

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Marshall’s theory on citizenship relies on post-war societies and their relationships between social class, welfare, and citizenship (Turner, 1997). At the heart of Marshall’s theory on citizenship is identity. For instance, contemporary Britain has faced anxiety in granting unconditional comprehensive citizenship to Hong Kong nationals (Turner, 1997). Turner (1997:7) describes this concept as ‘social closure’ in which citizenship is determined on an inclusion/exclusion basis, in an attempt to exclude ‘outsiders’ and drive out diversity. The idea of social closure is still a pervasive concept in 2017, as evidenced by “Brexit.” Openness to diversity and difference is an essential component of a liberal democracy (Turner, 1997), yet the sentiment of some UK citizens is in conflict with the idea of diversity. Brexit and immigration are discussed later in the essay.

Critique of Marshall’s Theory

Marshall’s theory of citizenship has been criticised for being Anglocentric and evolutionist (Mann, 1987). Mann (1987) suggests that emphasis should be placed on understanding ruling class interactions and anciens régimes rather than rising bourgeois and proletarian classes, which has been the status quo in previous political studies (Mann, 1987).

Other critics discount Marshall’s concept of citizenship due to the fact that his theories were developed in the mid 70’s (Bulmer & Rees, 1996) and the post-World War II political dynamic is much different than it is today. While this may be the case, it does not negate the fact that Marshall’s lived experiences as a prisoner in Germany and as a social worker, provides a knowledge and culture that can only be subsumed from such experiences. Such experiences can be triangulated to the adversity that many UK citizens feel today; it is not an overseas war that many in the UK are fighting- it is an internal war at which the will of the underclass of Britain and Britain’s diminishing middle-class is threatened.

It is arguable that Marshall’s theory on citizenship will always have relevance, whether it is in the year 2017, 2060, or later. For instance, in 1978, some scholars pointed out that the concept of citizenship had gone “out of fashion” amongst political thinkers (Kymlicka & Norman, 1994). Yet, 15 years later, citizenship has become a “buzz word” in political discourse (Kymlicka & Norman, 1994). Considered even minimally, it is arguable that Marshall’s theory is relevant in a cyclical nature. During certain points in time, it could be more relevant than in other time periods, although the concept itself is always relevant. Marshall has considered the entitlements of economic structure and capitalist society (Turner & Hamilton, 1990: 199), and these concepts will always be a constant.

Social Class & Welfare Reform

Social class, like citizenship, is a system of inequality (Marshall, 2009). Thus, Marshall’s theory on citizenship takes account of the impact of citizenship on social class (Marshall, 2009). In fact, Marshall (1950) notes that citizenship and social class are in conflict. The paragraphs below discuss social class and welfare reform.

Social welfare reform has been a central part of Britain’s political agenda since Margaret Thatcher’s policies of the conservative government (McLaughlin, 2000). Thatcher’s social welfare reforms included less governmental intervention and less social assistance so as to allow citizens to be more active in their social and economic standing. Thatcher’s policies also known as ‘Thatcherism’ encouraged greater citizen freedom and free market (McLaughlin, 2000). The idea of a free market is in line with Marshall’s view on citizenship. Following Thatcher’s policies, the Labour government reinvented social welfare after their 1997 win (McLaughlin, 2000). Given the stark contrast between the Conservative government’s policies and the Labour Party’s policies, it is arguable that Marshall’s understanding of citizenship is very much relevant to today’s Britain.

Marshall’s hypothesis rested on an economic calculation that the cost of providing education for all would increase a country’s productivity (Marshall, 1950: 6). Although Marshall’s hypothesis was calculated at a time in which physical labour was heavily utilised, affordable access to education is a concept that many in Britain worry about (Yuan & Powell, 2013). While Liberals and the Labour Party push for more social services such as education bursaries and grants for lower income families, Conservatives hold the view that education should not be a part of the social welfare system (Counts, 1978). Thus, this is the very notion of citizenship in which minimal access to education further widens inequality and inequality is inversely correlated with citizenship. Inequality is inversely correlated with citizenship due to the fact that the higher the inequality that exists, the lower the [participation] of citizenship, due to the fact that individuals faced with economic hardship are less likely to vote (Rosenstone, 1982). Arguably, the higher the citizenship, the lower the inequality of citizenship.

Prior to the Labour’s win in 1997, the Labour Party stated that welfare reform would be one its major campaign promises that it kept (Powell, 2000). The Labour’s rhetoric was said to be a new and distinctive method that differed from both the old left and the new right (Powell, 2000). At the heart of the party’s campaign, however, was the need for social change and reform. Marshall’s concept of citizenship is relevant to that period and today’s period due to the fact that social reform is still a heavily debated concept in 2017.

Another element that points to the relevance of Marshall’s theory on citizenship is welfare fraud. Welfare fraud is a hot-button topic for many political campaigns, despite its occurrence on a small scale. The British public believes that 27% of the UK’s welfare budget is lost to fraud (Trade Unions Congress, 2013) while the government’s records of funding lost to welfare fraud is 0.7% (TUC, 2013). And according to a poll conducted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Ministers should not assume that voters will continue to support Ministers’ plans to cap welfare benefit rises. The TUC’s research further notes that voters who are least able to provide accurate results on benefits are most likely to back the government’s plan to cut benefits (TUC, 2013). The poll results paint a bleak picture on citizen perception on unemployment. For instance, the TUC poll shows that once citizens learn that the benefits cap will hit workers in low paid jobs the most, support moves away from the government (TUC, 2013). The poll also demonstrated that 61% of individuals polled believed that 41% of the entire welfare budget goes to unemployed people, while the true figure is 3% (TUC, 2013). Overall, the results of the poll demonstrate that misconceptions on poverty and unemployment are what fuel misleading news stories and sensationalised campaign points. This is relevant to Marshall’s notion of citizenship because people need to understand the real causes and issues plaguing social welfare and unemployment: welfare fraud is not one of them. By remaining uninformed, an electorate may very well vote against their better interests, and in turn, this foster inequality. Marshall (1950) suggested that it was the state’s social responsibility to help the working class and poor to utilise their political and civil rights, and this can only be accomplished with an informed voter base. This is especially true due to the fact that cuts in social security programs have disproportionately affected women (Shelley & Gavigan, 2004). Cuts to these programs have affected single mothers in particular (Shelley & Gavigan, 2004). Shelley and Gavigan (2004) make a critical point when they note that public discourse and social images on welfare fraud erroneously link poverty and welfare to crime.

Brexit & Immigration

Prior to Brexit, many political analysts suggested that the determining factor on attitudes for leaving or staying in Britain was immigration, while others suggested that the determining factor was the advantage versus the disadvantage of EU membership (McKee & Galsworthy, 2016). Although ‘Brexit’ took place in 2016, the effects of the vote are apparent in 2017.

Tied to Brexit is immigration. As immigration is a global concern, minority groups and liberal assimilationist concepts of citizenship have dominated political discourse. The same can be said for Britain’s immigration “problem.”

The public vote to leave the EU brought about issues of citizenship and ‘otherness’ (Goodwin & Milazzo, 2017). In fact, a poll conducted by the British Election Study (BES) demonstrated that anti-immigration rhetoric shaped public support for Brexit (Goodwin & Milazzo, 2017). For instance, increases in the rate of immigration in the UK were key predictors of the vote for Brexit (Goodwin & Milazzo, 2017). It is not surprising that Britain has taken issue with immigration for several years. Journalists and reporters have seen increased attacks on EU migrants and minorities in record number, and it appears that this problem has only increased subsequent to Brexit (Goodwin & Milazzo, 2017). Further to the violence and anti-immigrant sentiment, the anger and xenophobia against immigrants are expected to become more intense (Goodwin & Milazzo, 2017).

In considering the other side of the argument, Marshall’s theory may not be as relevant to the year 2017 due to the fact that Marshall’s theory focused on the exercise of political power and voter turnout for Brexit was low (Goodwin & Heath, 2016). Marshall noted that citizens exercise participation of political power by voting, and if citizens do not exercise this right, they cannot be said to be involved in the political process. Arguably, a lack of participation points to apathy or ‘hopelessness.’ Marshall argued that citizenship “is a status bestowed on all those who are full members of a community.” (Marshall, 1950:28). Such members carry out their responsibilities by voting and completing civic obligations. On the other hand, Banks’ (2008) theory on citizenship which is still evident in today’s society is similar to Marshall’s notion of citizenship as Banks rejects assimilation, arguing that citizenship should reflect diverse cultures and languages. Further, diverse groups rights can aid individuals in attaining structural equality.

Education Reform

Education reform has been a hot button issue for the past 20 years (Torres, 1998). Education reform and citizenship are interrelated concepts due to the fact that citizens exercise their rights to vote on education. Education is not only a human right, but it is a concept that is at the forefront of the electorate. While some authors note that the discussion of schools in the UK remain marginal to the policy process or they are heard minimally through teaching unions (Bowe, Ball, & Gold, 2017), the consensus is that educational reform is an important campaigning point, and this is acknowledged by political pundits.

Another reason why education reform and citizenship are linked is because the social division of labour and educational systems are connected. This is in line with Marshall’s theory on citizenship due to the fact that discussions on educational reform have centred around schools and their ability to reduce the division of labour and lessen existing inequality (Apple, 2017).

The UK’s Housing Crisis

The current housing crisis in the UK is another issue that is related to citizenship, due to the fact that it is a social phenomenon that the electorate holds a stake in. The housing crisis also exacerbates inequality, and inequality is a fundamental precept of citizenship, as noted by Marshall.

The housing crisis in the UK is a problem that began after World War II (Gurran & Whitehead, 2011). Post-war planning legislation was instated in order to ensure that there was adequate supply of housing land, but much of the legislation failed to account to for Britain’s growing population (Gurran & Whitehead, 2011). Since the passing of such legislation, there has been a widening gap between housing demand and supply in the UK, leading to the housing crisis (Gurran & Whitehead, 2011). The question of whether Marshall’s theory on citizenship pertains to today’s housing crisis in the UK, rests on government intervention. While Marshall was largely against state intervention in some respects, Marshall supported the state using its power for education and basic assistance (Marshall, 1950). Proponents of improved and affordable housing conditions suggest that the government should vigorously be involved in the planning process and provide adequate housing provisions for low-income households (Gurran & Whitehead, 2011). While Conservatives believe that the private market should be able to balance development and the interests of the UK citizens, Liberals believe that state intervention will provide equitable and socially beneficial forms of housing for those that are most in need (Gurran & Whitehead, 2011). Gurran and Whitehead (2011) argue that state intervention is the only solution that will ease the housing crisis due to the fact that less land will be available for activities that generate negative externalities, resulting in higher housing prices, whilst more land will be available for uses that include greater social benefit. Stone (2006) also notes that affordable housing is a social issue that must take account of current incomes in the UK. Affordable housing can mean subsidised housing and liveable housing conditions (Stone, 2006). Thus, Marshall’s theory would include support for affordable housing, given the inequalities that exist in the housing shortage.


As feminism has gained steam in the last 20 years, so has the quest for equality (Brooks, 1997). Postmodern feminism and citizenship moves beyond the mainly white, male, middle-class perspective that much of history has been based on. Further, the absence of gender causes problems for understanding citizenship (Walby, 1994). Walby (1994) argues that discussions on citizenship must consider the ways in which gender can be integrated into citizenship (Walby, 1994). Thus, citizenship must consider a dynamic theory of gender relations and political citizenship that destabilises patriarchy and restores equal citizenship (Walby, 1994).

Some scholars note that Marshall’s theory of citizenship is not applicable today based on Marshall’s linear view on citizenship. These scholars argue that Marshall’s perspective on citizenship is that of a white, heterosexual male, and that it does not take account of minorities, women, lesbians, or homosexuals (Turner, 2009).

Lister (2003) notes that active citizenship can be accomplished by questioning deeply entrenched dichotomies and understanding the more coercive forms of active citizenship which are dominated by political agendas. The other way that active citizenship can be accomplished is by refusing to accept unfounded definitions and constructions of “insiders” and “outsiders” in relation to individual rights on citizenship, and this requires a deep regard for gender equality.

Postmodernist feminist also allows issues of child care, education, and work-life balance to be considered as a matter of both genders, despite those issues being considered as ‘female’ issues. Lister (2003) has allowed poor gendered versions of citizenship to be questioned, which is what Marshall’s theory on citizenship fails to do.


While Marshall’s theory on citizenship focused mainly on the free market, Marshall also considered with the inequalities that came with citizenship. On this end, Marshall’s theory is still applicable to Britain in the year 2017, due to the fact that inequalities linked to citizenship still exist in Britain. The housing crisis has also demonstrated the applicability of Marshall’s theory. Brexit has demonstrated that there is anti-immigrant sentiment, despite the fact that the selling point for joining the EU was the free movement of people and goods. The one area that Marshall’s theory on citizenship may not apply to, is feminism.

In regards to gender and inequality, the negative historical treatment of poor women on welfare have clouted public discourse (Shelley & Gavigan, 2004) on the real social welfare issues. The criminalisation of poverty in Britain raises theoretical questions on the regulation and control of Britain’s welfare state. Thus, Marshall’s theory on citizenship fails on this particular point due to the fact that Marshall’s perspective considers that of the white male, while largely ignoring women and their struggle and position as second-class citizens. As citizenship has re-emerged as an issue which is central to political concerns regarding healthcare, education, and social security (Turner, 1990), it must also consider the fight for equality and feminism- otherwise, citizenship is not truly considered in its totality.


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