Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam [ Erasmus University home page | Dept. of Philosophy home page ]

Gijs van Oenen, 'Turning on the citizen. Modern citizenship and its cultural hazards'

In: Citizenship Studies, 6/2, june 2002, p. 9-25

How is the citizen ‘turned on’? That is, how does one ‘switch’ from being a private person to being a citizen? This article investigates how several prominent models of politics and citizenship account for this switch. In particular, the role of (cultural) identity in performing the ‘switch’ is highlighted. In the ‘standard’ liberal model, the switch from private to public is considered an unproblematic ‘mind switch’. In the communitarian model, on the contrary, it is considered impossible: the good citizen must be a good person. In the republican model, identity ‘restrictions’ can be overcome by actively participating in the context of a culture of democratic deliberation. In the liberal multicultural model, cultural identity counts explicitly, although as a handicap, to be overcome by the support of cultural rights. In the model of identity politics, finally, identity counts positively, as an asset. Although identity thus empowers ‘switching’, it ‘transformative’ dimension has inpredictable and often unsettling effects, due to unacknowledged elements in the demand for recognition of identity in politics. Throughout the article, the vicissitudes of ‘switching’ are illuminated by an analysis of the Clinton-Lewinsky case, showing how president Clinton’s ‘sexualized identity’ affected his ability to switch from private to public affairs – for better or for worse.