The word "Citizen"

Ron Dwyer-Voss
Ron Dwyer-Voss
@ron-dwyer-voss
3 weeks ago
48 posts

One of the most powerful concepts in  ABCD is that each person has gifts, skills and abilities, that they can share them to connect with others, and that they can do so in a way that is powerful and can lead to being a co-creator or co-producer of community life.  We often refer to this role and responsibility as being a 'citizen' - someone actively engaged in co-producing their community's future.  As understood in contrast to a passive 'client' of government or 'consumer' of culture, 'citizen' has been used in ABCD training and practice to refer inclusively to all members of a community who share gifts, connect, engage and co-create.

Some, especially in the US, have pointed out that the term 'citizen' can feel exclusive or even demeaning in certain contexts where the concept of citizen as a government-recognized legal status has been used to separate people and marginalize those who do not have that government status and associated legal rights.  We have had some robust discussions about this on the Board of the ABCD Institute and would love to know how, linguistically, people refer to people in communities who share their gifts, connect with others and engage in co-creating their community's future. 

Do you use the word 'citizen?'  If so why? If not, why not?

Do you use other terms? What are they and what to you like about them or see as limitations.

bergdall
@bergdall
2 weeks ago
3 posts

i try to steer clear of using "citizen" because, it the current political climate in the U.S., it is most often used in a way to exclude certain segments of the community. When I do refer to those engaged in as active participants, I'll use some functional descriptors, like "engaged residents" or "activists." It always involves some sort of defining clarification but frankly, not as much as cleaning-up misunderstanding about "citizen."

Michelle Dunscombe
Michelle Dunscombe
@michelle-dunscombe
2 weeks ago
17 posts

Great conversation started Ron. From my perspective, I don't generally use the word citizen as it is not widely used term across communities here in Australia, so may not come with the same baggage. I tend to think of it as a US centric term .

Rather, I opt for using descriptors like participants, people, neighbours, mob (Aboriginal term group - family, clam or community) or community depending on the context. 

Paul Schmitz
Paul Schmitz
@paul-schmitz
2 weeks ago
1 posts

I rarely use it, and if I do I define it emphatically (i.e., make it crystal clear this is not about immigration but membership). Generally I find among grass roots audiences the word can trigger or is not well understood. I find that those who get it most tend to be the most educated and bookish in my audiences (I say that as a voracious reader on such topics). I just don't find the need. 

Mark Chupp
Mark Chupp
@mark-chupp
2 weeks ago
1 posts

Thank you for raising this, Ron. It is a dilemma for me. I don't like the negative aspects of using the word citizen but something is lost in using the terms residents, neighbor, community members, etc. In a democracy, citizen conveys a sense of rights and responsibilities that comes with being a member of society. Citizens have an expectation to contribute to the greater good. I know this is largely lost in the current politicization of the term. 

In community organizing, some groups refer to everyday people as leaders, which is confusing as it is mean to meant everyone. Activist is another term, one that promotes the notions of contributing, but does not convey that two-way relationship of giving and receiving that citizen does. 

Ruben L Medina
Ruben L Medina
@ruben-l-medina
2 weeks ago
1 posts
I use neighbors. It translates better goe Spanish speaking community.
Gord Cunningham
Gord Cunningham
@gord-cunningham
2 weeks ago
1 posts

I use the term "citizen" frequently in our ABCD courses and writings. As Paul points out - it really depends on the audience. In the international development field there is such a rich body of work on "active citizenship" that we build on. You really have to unpack the term though. I have found it very helpful in places like South Africa where there is a national conversation on the "rights and responsibilities of citizenship" in the new South Africa. But you have to really define what you mean by the term and especially what you do not mean. For example, we mean people actively engaged in civic life and acting out of a sense of civic duty - not a person holding the right of citizenship to a particular country and where people not holding that right are considered "non-citizens".  I have stopped using the term citizens in Indigenous communities in Canada - just too confusing. I have found the term "citizen-led" more useful than community-led because it gets at who is doing the leading and gets into the whole area of "agency". Depends on the audience but I'd be careful of never using the term.

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