Ulster Logo
Link to facebook  Link to INCOREinfo on twitter  Link to INCORE rss feed    Linkedin link Linkedin link

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

Citizenship and National Identity
David Miller

Oxford: Polity Press, 2000
220pp. Index. Pb.: ISBN 0-7456-2394-8.

This book is a collection of essays, most of which were published by Miller over the previous ten years. It approaches the themes of citizenship and nationality from numerous perspectives. This width has both strong and weak points as to how the book succeeds as an organic unit. On the plus side, there is much to prompt and challenge, and on the minus there is the difficulty of seeing all the threads together. A small point of structure is an example of this difficulty. Deliberative democracy is examined from one perspective in chapter one and another at chapter nine, a thread obviously separated by a considerable amount of detailed argument.

The book deals with ethnicity matters directly and indirectly. An example of the latter is his analysis of the various types of citizenship, for example, republican, bounded (i.e. within national political communities) and cosmopolitan. There is much detail and argument that will help those interested in ethnic identity matters. It is clear that where there are tensions around ethnic identities, they will not automatically ease by simplistic reference and call to 'citizenship' as a set of minimum agreed values and responsibilities. Miller's analysis reveals a complex phenomenon, facets of which will still collide with, for example, migrant identities and those forged at, what has been described as, the 'ethnic frontier'.

A direct, and cogent, reference to ethnicity is Miller's treatment of inclusion and the politics of recognition (pp 70-5). Debating Iris Young's appeal to 'affinity groups' he highlights the difficulties of multifaceted identities, for example, a blend of ethnic / race with gender, class and religion. Group rights, where there is a multiplicity of groups face, as Millar puts it, identity politics' inability to be "infinitely flexible" and societies that can only designate certain groups for political recognition. He goes on to argue the strength of common nationality and a "plurality of private cultures" co-existing. Space does not permit full analysis here but I immediately reflected on the scenario whereby nationality, per se, was at the heart of the problem. Nevertheless, there was much in his treatment that adds to the debate.

Deliberative democracy is also well aired. Miller constructs a case outlining how social choice, in the liberal democratic system, is restricted by the arbitrary nature of choosing (voting, opinion polls etc) and strategic manipulation. Deliberative democracy, by contrast, allows for preferences therefore greater formation of opinions by the people. My immediate reaction was that of a laudable project confronted, even in the era of e-communications, by the harsh practicalities of decision making on the 'big' political questions and also in polarised arenas. I am sure there is more to be said on this concept.

The last chapter is 'National Self-Determination and Global Justice' with Miller viewing justice as 'distributive'. One chapter for such a broad topic and one 'review' paragraph of comment from me is insufficient to say the least. Nevertheless, I felt that Miller's conclusion of a world in which nations could "independently pursue their own conceptions of social justice ?" while simultaneously respecting internal and external rights (179) can be stridently challenged. For example, intellectual property rights and the numerous border / territory disputes immediately confound divisions into 'internal' and 'external'.

Much of the material is accessible elsewhere but it is still a commendable collection.

Dr. Billy Leonard, INCORE

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
contact usgoto the search page
go to the top of this page