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Williams, Melissa. Citizenship as Identity, Citizenship as Shared Fate, and the Functions of Multicultural Education
2003, In Kevin McDonough & Walter Feinberg (eds.), Citizenship and Education in Liberal-Democratic Societies: Teaching for Cosmopolitan Values and Collective Identities. Oxford University Press.
Added by: Deryn Mair Thomas

This is the second of the four essays in Part II of the book on liberalism and traditionalist education; all four are by authors who would like to find ways for the liberal state to honour the self-definitions of traditional cultures and to find ways of avoiding a confrontation with differences. Melissa Williams examines citizenship as identity in relation to the project of nation-building, the shifting boundaries of citizenship in relation to globalization, citizenship as shared fate, and the role of multicultural education within the view of citizenship-as-shared-fate. She argues the other side of the same coin to that presented by Shelley Burtt in the previous chapter: according to Williams, the liberal state often demands too much in the way of loyalty from traditional groups, and when it does, it runs a strong risk of becoming oppressive and illiberal. Moreover, she holds that there is no need for a single shared identity among citizens of the liberal state. Her conception of people tied together by a shared fate is to this extent compatible with Burtt’s attempt to make liberalism’s commitment to autonomy more hospitable to groups of individuals encumbered by unchosen attachments, but her notion of citizenship as shared fate also goes further than that, and possibly stands in some tension with, Burtt’s view, since it allows and even encourages people to develop primary affiliation to all kind of groups – traditional as well as global.

Comment: This text explores existing conceptions of citizenship as identity and the challenges these pose for the ideal liberal state. In addition, the author proposes a previous unrecognised conception of citizenship as shared fate. In doing so, the paper touches on a variety of topics in contemporary political philosophy and theory, such as multiculturalism and globalization, the boundaries of political identity, the grounding of liberal democracy, and the project of civic education. As such, it would be most useful as a supplemental reading in undergraduate level political philosophy courses discussing any of the aforementioned topics, or in more specific contexts to explore questions about citizenship and what it means to share an idenitity with a group of others, with whom we may never meet face-to-face or have direct interpersonal dealings. The article itself has interesting implications for questions of social cohesion and group identity.

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