What does it mean to be a Global Citizen in the 21st Century?

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Experiencing and engaging with citizenship in a global context – the third and final public lecture in the Global Societies series, Monday, 2nd December, as part of the Humanities in Public programme at MMU.

Dr Darren O’Byrne, Principal Lecturer in Sociology and Human Rights at University of Roehampton, delivered an enlightening lecture on global citizenship in the context of current events. The event was attended by a diverse Manchester audience, which included students, educators, and other members of the public. The author of several books, and Founding Chair of the Global Studies Association (2000-2005), was warmly introduced by Dr Paul Kennedy, convenor of the Global Society lectures.

Dr O’Byrne opened by stating that he was dedicating the lecture to the memory of Garry Davis (1921-2013), an American army veteran, peace activist and founder of the World Service Authority (WSA). The WSA is an organisation that advocates the concept of the World Citizen. A key part of the organisation’s activities is the issuing of its own passport, the World Passport, which assists those who are fleeing from persecution and hardship in their respective countries. Today, the World Passport is accepted as a de facto approved document in approximately 180 countries. Davis’s view was that the primary cause of war is the nation-state itself. He died last July, aged 91.

Taking account of contemporary developments in theory and politics, Dr O’Byrne revisited his work on global citizenship as contained in his book, The Dimensions of Global Citizenship, published in 2003.

In his talk, Dr O’Byrne outlined the concepts of the origin of World Citizenship – Cosmopolitan, Religious Universalism, Moral Universalism, World Universalism and Globalism. He explained that a view of globalisation from the perspective of the late Garry Davis was an exemplary concept of the subject. Global citizenship is distinct from world citizenship, with the capacity to act being an essential ingredient of the former. Explaining that the idea of world citizenship has been associated with the concept of humanity, Dr O’Byrne said: “World citizenship armed with a language of rights reaches out to humanity”. Dr O’Byrne went on to stress that the real issue is citizenship, saying that what is required is a positive affirmation of one’s citizenship of the world. Expressing unease at the fact that the modern nation-state system speaks of citizenship within the machinery of government, Dr O’Byrne said that as the language continues to be claimed by the nation-state, citizenship becomes a theme of modern liberal understanding.

Deeply concerned at the ‘high-jacking of the language of human rights by the ‘neo-right’’, Dr O’Byrne lamented the increased strengthening of the nation-state today and warned of the need to seriously consider the current government’s proposition to substitute Human Rights legislation with an English Bill of Rights. This act of omitting the language of Human Rights gives governments greater power in this regard, thereby making the issue of rights the ‘plaything of the elite’.

The lecture ended on an optimistic note with Dr O’Byrne explaining that, “If we look beyond the possibilities for full global citizenship, the situation is not so bleak…”. He went on to point out that global citizenship in reality is possible if we see past nation-states. With increasing advocacy and awareness in areas such as ecological and environmental issues, cultural diversity, and the reluctance of individuals to automatically accept proposed government policies, there is reason to have hope for the future of global citizenship.

The audience was invited to comment and share any queries. In response to a question raised about passports and whether the solution is to do away with them entirely, Dr O’Byrne said that he acknowledged the need for passports. What was being opposed, however, is the arbitrariness of the passport as a symbol of citizenship, and not the existence of the passport itself. In his response to another question that was raised at the end of the lecture, Dr O’Byrne commented that he was opposed to the politicisation of the language of global citizenship to sustain the nation-state.

Dr Darren O’Byrne is currently working on his next book Globalization and Human Rights.

Feyi Raimi-Abraham is a legally qualified employee relations specialist and is currently training as a journalist. Passionate about art, Feyi promotes the arts through her blog Zaynnah Magazine.Previous Zaynnah Magazine interviewees include the artist El Anatsui, the radio presenter Rosemary Laryea, the Japan based afrobeat band Kingdom Afrocks, as well as the reggae artist Tarrus Riley. You can follow Feyi on Twitter @zayynah1

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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