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The Boundaries of Citizenship

, 272 pages
November 1995
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The Boundaries of Citizenship

Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in the Liberal State

Liberalism has traditionally been equated with protecting the rights of the individual. But how does this protection affect the cultural identity of these individuals? In The Boundaries of Citizenship Jeff Spinner addresses this question by examining distinctive racial, ethnic, and national groups whose identities may be transformed in liberal society.

Focusing on the Amish, Hasidic Jews, and African Americans in the United States and on the Quebecois in Canada, Spinner explores the paradox of how liberal values such as equality and individual autonomy—which members of cultural groups often fight to attain—can lead to the unexpected transformation of the group's identity. Spinner shows how liberalism fosters this transformation by encouraging the dispersal of the group's cultural practices throughout society. He examines why groups that reject the liberal values of equality and autonomy are the most successful at retaining their distinctive cultural identity. He finds, however, that these groups also fit—albeit uneasily—in the liberal state.

Spinner concludes that citizens are benefitted more than harmed by liberalism's tendency to alter cultural boundaries. The Boundaries of Citizenship is a timely look at how cultural identities are formed and transformed—and why the political implications of this process are so important. The book will be of interest to readers in a broad range of academic disciplines, including political science, law, history, sociology, and cultural studies.

Jeff Spinner teaches political science at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

"Concerned with the transmutation of citizenship that follows from changes in which ethnic and subcultural identities are viewed in contemporary liberal democracies... Spinner moves toward his positive or prescriptive conclusions through careful and balanced reading of a broad range of scholarly work in political science, anthropology, and philosophy, as well as in sociology, and with clear and convincing argument."

"This volume does an excellent job of coming to grips with the issue [of classical liberal political theory treating citizens solely as individuals instead of groups into which real populations are divided] in normative terms."