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H Marshalls Theory of Citizenship

What are the major contributions of T. H. Marshalls theory of
citizenship? Elaborate.
Citizenship according to sociologist T.H. Marshall is a status, given to all full
members of a community. That status is assuring rights and duties, though
there is no universal principle what those should be; in general the idea of
citizenship goes in the direction of greater equality.
T. H. Marshalls Citizenship and Social Class (1950) formulated a theory of
citizenship which focuses precisely on the relationship between
developments in the nature of citizenship and in the class system. As he states
at the very beginning of his article, he is dealing with national citizenship, for
it is a formation of nation-states that contributed to universalisation of what
were in medieval Europe local rights and duties.
Marshalls argument is of particular interest because in explaining the nature
of citizenship in post-world war II Britain, i.e., since the rise of welfare state,
it also provides an account of the emergence of citizenship in the modern
nation-state in terms of the historical development of capitalist society.
Marshall argues that as capitalism evolves as a social system, and as the class
structure develops within it, so modern citizenship changes from being a

T. H Marshalls Theory of Citizenship

system of rights which arise out of and support market relations to being a
system of rights which exists in an antagonistic relationship with market and
class systems.
The general understanding of citizenship according to Marshall is entirely
conventional. He says:
Firstly, that citizenship is a status attached to full membership of a
Secondly, that those who possess this status are equal with respect to the
rights and duties associated with it.
T. H. Marshall, in his influential account of the growth of citizenship in
England, states that the concept developed in a peculiar relationship of
conflict and collusion with capitalism. Marshalls widely accepted definition
of citizens as free and equal members of a political community comes
primarily from the study of citizenship as a process of expanding equality
against the inequality of social classes, the latter being an integral element of
capitalist society.
Marshall adds that different societies will attach different rights and duties to
the status of citizen, for there is no universal principle which determines

T. H Marshalls Theory of Citizenship

necessary rights and duties of citizenship in general. It is by going beyond the
conventional idea that membership of a community is predominantly a
political matter that Marshall is able to contribute to the study of citizenship.
Three distinct parts or elements of citizenship are identified by Marshall
which may or may not be present in any given constitution of citizenship:
these are civil, political and social rights.
The civil element of citizenship is composed of the rights necessary for
individual freedom, and the institution most directly associated with it is the
rule of law and a system of courts.
The political part of citizenship consists of the right to participate in the
exercise of political power. Such rights are associated with parliamentary
The social element of citizenship is made up of a right to the prevailing
standard of long and the social heritage of the society. These rights are
significantly realized through the social services and the educational system.
Marshall adds that in the experiences of the development of citizenship in
modern English nation-state the civil, political and social components
developed in 18th, 19th and 20th centuries respectively.

T. H Marshalls Theory of Citizenship

The three elements of citizenship distinguished by Marshall are defined in

terms of specific sets of rights and social institutions through which such
rights are exercised. The requirement of understanding citizenship in terms of
rights and the institutional context through which rights are exercised is a
genuine improvement on the idea that rights intrinsically attach to persons
and that the concept of human rights can inform an understanding of the
rights of the citizens. Marshalls approach indicates that rights are only
meaningful in particular institutional context and are thus only realizable
under specified material conditions.
The most important aspect of Marshalls theory of citizenship is that it
directly and explicitly addresses the question of the relationship between
citizenship and social class. Marshall notes that the development of the
institutions of modern citizenship in England coincided with the rise of
capitalism. He regards this as inconsistent because while capitalism creates
class inequalities between those subject to it, citizenship is a status through
which its members share equal rights and duties. Marshall concludes that it is
reasonable to expect that the impact of citizenship on social class should take
the form of a conflict between opposing principles.


T. H Marshalls Theory of Citizenship

During the period of 18th and 19th centuries, the rights of citizenship were
entirely harmonious with the class inequalities of capitalist society.
According to Marshall, such rights were necessary to the maintenance of the
particular form of inequality; civil rights were indispensable to a competitive
market economy. The reason for this is that civil rights bestow on those who
have then the capacity to enter market exchanges as independent and selfsufficient agents.
The character of the inequalities created by the practice of citizenship rights
is that they are legitimate: the status acquired by education carried out into
the world bearing the stamp of legitimacy, because it has been conferred by
an institution designed to above the citizen his just rights. Marshall says that
the assumption that the basic equality of citizenship rights is consistent with
the inequalities of social class is demonstrated in the fact that citizenship has
itself become the architect of legitimate social inequality. Thus, citizenship is
not opposed to inequality as such but to illegitimate inequality, to inequality
which can not be justified on the basis of equal citizenship rights.
Citizenships promise of equality is premised on camouflaging ascriptive and
hierarchical inequalities of culture, caste, gender, ethnicity, etc. All citizens
appear the same to the state and it would therefore treat everyone equally by

T. H Marshalls Theory of Citizenship

applying uniform standards, so that irrespective of whether a person is an
upper-caste man or a Dalit women, they possess the same rights and are
protected by the state in the same manner and measure.
The United States has become disillusioned by the idea of social citizenship,
but many industrialized states view social citizenship as their responsibility,
even providing welfare outside of their own borders. Marshalls articulation
of the idea of social citizenship was vital to the ideas proliferation.
Marshall fails adequately to consider the relationship between the different
elements of citizenship. Though the concept of secondary rights he proposes
a treatment of their serial development, and he also shows how civil rights on
the one hand and political and social rights on the other bear a different
relationship with market relations and class inequality. What he fails to treat
is the means through which the distinct sets of rights function together as
components of unified citizenship. Marshall takes the state for granted and
fails to reflect upon its significance for the development of citizenship. He
tends to share this inclination with his critics. However, the role of the state
in the development of citizenship is crucial; and any theory of political and
social participation and rights must acknowledge and build on the fact.