Citizenship

Although we tend to think of citizenship as something national, originally the citizen was simply a certain kind of someone who lived in a Greek city: a member of an elite class who was said to be capable of self-governance and therefore of the legal and military governance of the city. But the ancient history of the term tells us little about the constellation of rights, laws, obligations, interests, fantasies, and expectations that shape the modern scene of citizenship, which is generally said to have been initiated by the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century (B. Anderson 1991; B. Turner 1993; Mouffe 1995). Most simply, citizenship refers to a standing within the law (this is often called formal citizenship); jus soli citizenship allots citizenship to people born within the geographical territory, and jus sanguinis awards citizenship by way of a parental inheritance.

At the same time, citizenship is a relation …

Collectivities, Embodiments, Ideologies

City

Raymond Williams (1973) demonstrated the overarching significance of the keywords “city” and “country,” establishing the simultaneously positive and negative inflections of urbanity. On the positive side were the values of learning, light, progress, civilization, cosmopolitanism, tolerance and civil liberties, excitement, and sophistication; on the negative lay the countervalues of sin, darkness and noise, corruption and devolution, danger and violence, irreligion, mob rule, and anomie—in short, urban modernity and its discontents.

As Williams noted, these city/country oppositions are always invoked in the service of political interests. Diverse social actors described European and, later, U.S. urban life in ways that shifted and evolved with cities themselves. Troubadours, priests, ministers, and Romantic poets gave way to flaneurs and other urban observers, who then gave way to social statisticians, settlement-house workers, novelists, playwrights, journalists, photographers, and painters. The new social scientists and artists took cities and urban dwellers as their research objects, as problems …

Collectivities, Histories, Places

Civilization

“Civilization” refers to an ideal perpetually contested, a condition perpetually threatened, and a practice perpetually prescribed. It is a term employed by academics and cultural theorists, policy pundits, and government officials in the United States and around the world. In the view of R. G. Collingwood (1971) and a host of lesser defenders of “Western heritage,” it is the political order and cultural treasure of the West threatened by totalitarian, proletarian, and jihadist barbarities. It is the globally exportable condition of social development promoted by the United Nations Civil Society Organizations and Participation Programme. It is the seductive discipline of decorum prescribed by colonizing powers on subaltern populations critiqued in Homi K. Bhabha’s essay “Sly Civility” (1994). It is an abstract set of conditions, found in any number of world cultures throughout history, described by sociologists such as Benjamin Nelson (1973) and Stanford M. Lyman (1990).

These various …

Collectivities, Histories, Ideologies

Class

As an analytical tool and historiographical category, “class” has an important place in American studies and cultural studies, if only because so many people have thought it irrelevant to the study of the United States. Unlike Europe’s old countries, with their feudal pasts and monarchical legacies, the United States, it has often been said, is a land of unlimited economic and geographical mobility. Abraham Lincoln was only one of the most notable believers in “American exceptionalism,” the idea that the United States, uniquely among the globe’s nations, assigned its citizens no fixed class definition and afforded boundless opportunity to those who would only work hard and look beyond the next horizon. The reality is much more complicated, as scholars and critics have to some extent always known and over the past forty years have demonstrated in studies of U.S. class formation, cultural allegiance, and artistic expression.

Some form of class …

Collectivities, Ideologies, Money

Colonial

“Colonial” has very old roots. The Latin word colonia was used during the Roman Empire to mean a settlement of Roman citizens in a newly conquered territory. Often these citizens were retired soldiers who received land as a reward for their service and as a display of Roman authority to the conquered inhabitants. For Roman writers, colonia translated the Greek word apoikia, which meant a settlement away from one’s home state, as opposed to the polis, meaning one’s own city or country as well as a community of citizens, or the metropolis, literally one’s mother city or mother country.

Despite these etymological ties to the violence and power of conquest, the English word “colony” was until the eighteenth century as likely to mean simply a farm or a country estate as a settlement in conquered land subject to a parent state. The cognate “colonial” was not coined …

Histories, Ideologies, Places

Community

In the late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century United States, the term “community” is used so pervasively that it would appear to be nearly meaningless. The term is often deployed more for its performative effect of being “warmly persuasive” than for any descriptive work it accomplishes (Raymond Williams 1976/1983, 76). Carrying only positive connotations—a sense of belonging, understanding, caring, cooperation, equality—“community” is deployed to mobilize support not only for a huge variety of causes but also for the speaker using the term. It functions this way for companies such as Starbucks and Target, which have programs and pamphlets in their stores proclaiming their commitment to community, as well as for the feminist scholar who seeks to legitimize her research by saying she works “in the community.” It is deployed across the political spectrum to promote everything from identity-based movements (on behalf of women, gays and lesbians, African Americans, and others) to …

Collectivities, Ideologies, Places

Contract

“Contract” is at least as old as the Old Testament and as new as the market transactions of the moment—local, national, and global. It encompasses the provinces of religion and commodities, state and civil society, public and private exchange, the rights of persons and the rights to property. Puritan theology speaks of covenants, Enlightenment liberalism of social contracts, political economy of commercial contracts, the law of liberty of contract. Informed by those traditions, U.S. culture has long been infused by contract. Just after the Civil War, a primer handed out by Yankee liberators to former slaves testified to contract’s vast province: “You have all heard a great deal about contracts, have you not since you have been free? . . . Contracts are very numerous; numerous as the leaves on the trees almost; and, in fact, the world could not get on at all without them” (Fisk 1866, 47). The …

Ideologies, Money, Power

Coolie

The word “coolie” is first and foremost a product of European expansion into Asia and the Americas. Of Tamil, Chinese, or other origin, it was popularized by Portuguese sailors and merchants across Asia beginning in the sixteenth century and later adopted by fellow European traders on the high seas and in port cities. By the eighteenth century, “coolie” referred to a laborer of India or China, hired locally or shipped abroad. The word took on a new significance in the nineteenth century, as the beginnings of abolition remade “coolies” into indentured laborers in high demand across the world, particularly in the tropical colonies of the Caribbean. Emerging out of struggles over British emancipation and Cuban slavery in particular, “coolies” and “coolieism”—defined by the late nineteenth century as “the importation of coolies as labourers into foreign countries” (Oxford English Dictionary)—came to denote the systematic shipment and employment of Asian …

Embodiments, Money, Places

Copyright

Embedded within the word “copyright” is a simple and succinct self-definition. It means, quite literally, the right to copy. Unlike “intellectual property,” a term that did not come into common usage until the mid-twentieth century, “copyright” has been used for centuries, dating from 1735. The term accurately describes what this legal doctrine is and how it functions. Often understood as a synonym for “copyright,” “intellectual property” is actually a deceptive neologism. That is because copyrighted, patented, and trademarked works are not in fact property—they are instead protected by government-granted rights that are limited in how they can be enforced. The term “intellectual property” functions ideologically because it naturalizes an association with physical property that does not exist in law. This encourages many false analogies, such as the common claim that the unauthorized download of a song or a film is like breaking into someone’s car and driving it away. …

Ideologies, Money, Power

Corporation

In current usage, the keyword “corporation” is synonymous with “business corporation,” generally referring to a for-profit organization that can operate at the discretion of its owners and managers free of social and legislative control. The term is derived from the Latin corporatus, the present participle of corporare, which means “form into a body,” and appeared in English by 1530. A business corporation can own property; buy, sell, and control assets, including other corporations; pay or avoid taxes; write or break contracts; make and market products; and engage in every kind of economic activity. At the same time, the persons involved in a corporation have under most circumstances no liability for its debts. Since 1900, the corporation has been the dominant form for organizing capital, production, and financial transactions. By 2000, the corporation had become a dominant force in the global economy, the only alternative to the state as …

Embodiments, Money, Power
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