23003 Citizens
The Journey Embassy


Defining citizenship

Throughout history, citizenship has maintained strong ethical links to justice, democracy and liberty and to debates about what a person’s conduct should be in society. Aristotle describes the citizen as ‘one who has a share in both the ruling and being ruled’ where citizenship confers some form of status with rights and duties.

A general definition used in political philosophy sees citizenship as a series of rights and responsibilities that relate to the individual as a member of a political community, including civic, political, social and economic rights and duties.

Although precise definitions of citizenship are contested by academics, in the UK and Western Europe, citizenship can also be described in terms of relationships and behaviours:

  • Citizenship describes the relationship between the citizen and the state and the need for citizens to understand the political and economic processes, institutions, laws, rights and responsibilities of our democratic system.
  • Increasingly, it describes relationships between citizens, communities (global to local) and our multiple identities.


UNHCR Prevention of Statelessness resources

UNHCR Prevention of Statelessness resources

Citizenship classes have been a compulsory part of the national curriculum for 11- to 16-year-olds in England since 2002. Though the UK’s national curriculum is currently under review, exceptional free resources are still available through the Citizenship Teacher website. The Citizenship curriculum is based on key concepts (democracy, justice, rights and responsibilities, identities and diversity). Read about Citizenship Education in other countries.


Stateless citizenship

There are an estimated 12 million stateless people in dozens of countries around the world.

The UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) explains, "Statelessness occurs for a variety of reasons including discrimination against minority groups in nationality legislation, failure to include all residents in the body of citizens when a state becomes independent (state succession) and conflicts of laws between states... While human rights are generally to be enjoyed by everyone, selected rights such as the right to vote may be limited to nationals. Of even greater concern is that many more rights of stateless people are violated in practice - they are often unable to obtain identity documents; they may be detained because they are stateless; and they could be denied access to education and health services or blocked from obtaining employment."

Watch I Am Stateless by Railya Abulkhanova, who was born in Kazakhstan but lost her nationality with the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Find out more about the UNHCR's campaign for defending the stateless here.


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Nowhereisland is a Situations project led by artist Alex Hartley, one of 12 Artist Taking the Lead projects for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad funded by Arts Council England. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the University of the West of England, Bristol; Bloomberg; Nicky Wilson Jupiter Artland; the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Royal Norwegian Embassy and Yellowbrick Tracking.

Identity designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio and Wolfram Wiedner, website by Wolfram Wiedner.