“Citizen” comes from the Greek polītēs which itself has its roots in the word polis or city-state. The importance of “citizen” is reflected in the heyday of Athenian democracy when the its very concept became an underpinning of democracy.
Athenian leader Cleisthenes was instrumental in crafting the concept of democratic Athenian citizen as it is understood by contemporary scholars. By redefining Athenian citizenry along geographical rather than genealogical lines, Cleisthenes created an artificial unity borne out of the political present of “we the Athenians” (Ober 70). Thus citizenry flourished as a state of common interdependency among Athenians. Aristotle echoed Cleisthenes sentiment of a participatory citizenship stating that, “The citizen in an unqualified sense is defined by no other thing so much as by sharing in decision and office" (Politics 1275a22). Aristotle described man as a social being who is compelled “by nature” (Nic. Eth. 1097b) to create and participate in a social order. Thus Aristotle’s definition of citizenship was a decidedly active one based on direct contact between the citizen, his vote/voice, and the ratification of policy.
Demosthenes, too, contributed to the representation of Athenian citizenry. In his mind, the relationship between citizens and their democracy was symbiotic, “Observing that the navy was going to pieces…while citizens of moderate or small means were losing all they had…I made a statute under which I compelled the wealthy to take their fair share of expense, stopped the oppression of the poor, and, by a measure of great public benefit, caused your naval preparations to be made in good time” (On The Crown 18 102). That is, Demosthenes understood that the citizen as an active participant was reciprocated by the government functioning as citizen benefactor via the language of policy.
In the ages after Athens, the concept of a “citizen” remained adaptable according to its country of ownership. Outside the (male) haven of Athenian democracy, “citizen” was primarily an exclusionary term instituted by clergy or royal decree. America’s own definition of “citizen” did not legally encompass African Americans or women until the 1860’s and the 1920’s, respectively. Today the appellation of “citizen” still carries an important value. For example, the naturalization process for becoming an American citizen is application based and includes queries regarding felonies, oaths of allegiance, and knowledge of “basic English” (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).
Contemporary pedagogy on the topic of “citizen” diverges from legal concerns and instead focuses on the implications of concept connotation. While America’s government is modeled representatively rather than directly as in Athenian democracy, recent scholarship has become concerned with participatory citizenship. Gibson from the Case Foundation, an institution for civic engagement, calls for citizens who, "come together, deliberate, and take action collectively to address public problems or issues that citizens themselves define as important..." (7). Other scholars are involved in research on correlations between education and active citizenry (for a review, see Campbell, 2009, Kinney, 2008, Moulder & O'Neill, 2009). The National Civic Review, a journal committed to issues of government and citizenship, is in its 98th year. Thus, “citizen” has come full circle as a democratic concept requiring an active, reciprocal relationship between a government and its citizens.
Word Count (excluding citations): 496
Ober 1991 - Mass and Elite In Democratic Athens: Rhetoric, Ideology, And The Power Of The People
Campbell 2009 - “Civic Engagement and Education: An Empirical Test of the Sorting Model”
Moulder & O'Neill 2009 - “Citizen Engagement and Local Government Management”
Kinney 2008 - "Current Approaches to Citizen Involvement in Performance Measurement and Questions They Raise"
Demosthenes - On the Crown
Aristotle - Nichomean Ethics, Politics
Gibson - http://www.casefoundation.org/pressroom/publications/citizen-at-the-center