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The Paradoxes of Citizenship in the Pandemic: Challenges from Europe


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Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs 

Center for European Studies presents

Challenges to Citizenship Series

The Paradoxes of Citizenship in the Pandemic: Challenges from Europe

It is clear that the pandemic has had a substantial impact upon citizenship, whether viewed as legal status, framework of rights, or in its identitarian or political participation guises. Under pandemic conditions, taken for granted expressions of citizenship ranging from in person birth registration to public protest have been reshaped as a result of restrictions on social behaviour. Moreover, these changes have been overlaid on a troubled political and constitutional landscape, marked by the dominance of populist and in some cases authoritarian governments in several parts of Europe. 

By exploring how the meaning of certain social acts has been shifting under pandemic conditions, we can gain new insights into the character of constitutional citizenship and its relationship with political ideas such as populism and fundamental principles such as equality and dignity. These shifts illustrate the changing meaning of what constitutes the ‘good citizen’, all the time playing on what Jean Cohen terms ‘the paradoxical dialectic inherent in modern constitutionalism’ (at least within bounded polities), which ‘drives republican or liberal democratic conceptions of citizenship into the arms of thicker, more communitarian understandings of identity.’ This, then, raises the question of whether it is feasible and reasonable to place a brake upon such trends, and to ask which types of norms and institutions, especially at the national and international levels, are suitable for that task. The focal points in this paper are face-coverings and masks, alongside public protests against restrictions on liberties imposed in the name of combatting the spread of the virus.

Jo Shaw

Salvesen Chair of European Institutions

University of Edinburgh 

Jo Shaw holds the Salvesen Chair of European Institutions at the University of Edinburgh and is also a part time Professor in New Social Research at Tampere University in Finland. Her most recent book was The People in Question: Citizens and Constitutions in Uncertain Times, published by Bristol University Press. 

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