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T.H. Marshall's Theory of Citizenship

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Policy
Wordcount: 2620 words Published: 28th Feb 2017

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Critically discuss T. H. Marshall’s theory of citizenship as outlined in Citizenship and Social Class (1949/1992).

At the centre of the development of citizenship in modern Britain is the pioneering work of T.H. Marshall (Faulks, 1998). T.H. Marshall proposed an extremely influential theory in regards to citizenship (Dwyer, 2010). Through his analysis of citizenship, Marshall has to be acknowledged as identifying an original theoretical stand point from which to understand a social phenomenon (Held and Thompson, 1989). Few British Social Scientists other than Marshall have directly considered the concept of citizenship and made it their central focus in their work (Lister, 2010). Therefore, it has been Marshall’s contribution that has been considered a starting point for further research into the subject of citizenship rights (Held and Thompson, 1989). Furthermore, as Roche (1992) has identified, Marshall’s writings form a central text which he has labelled the ‘Dominant paradigm’ within citizenship theory in Britain (Faulks, 1998).

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When critiquing the work of Marshall it is important to recognise how defining citizenship is integral to understanding the concepts expressed in his work and others to date. Marshall defined citizenship as ‘full membership of a community’ (Marshall, 1963: 72). Marshall then clarified that full citizenship status involved membership of a national community (Dwyer, 2010). Marshall’s implication was that each individual considered a citizen could, therefore, expect certain rights of entitlement from the state and in return would be expected to uphold certain standards or duties within the community to be considered a ‘citizen’. As the definition of citizenship has developed over the years so has the concepts of which it encompasses. As such, when critiquing Marshall’s work it is important to acknowledge the era during which the theories considered were proposed as noted by Dwyer (2010). The circumstances during the time of this essay were substantially different to those of modern society within Britain. Marshall’s work was considered following the Second World War and the establishment of the post war welfare settlement (Dwyer, 2010). Consequently, this has led to critical discussion of Marshall’s theories regarding citizenship and its value by a number of academics to date (Alcock, 1989; Delanty, 2000; Dwyer, 2010 and Lister, 2010).

Marshall considers each aspect by analysing each approach historically to the development for rights. Marshall outlined three interlinked elements of rights that took the form of civil, political and social rights (Lister, 2010). The concept of civil rights in Britain came to prominence during the eighteenth century and included;

‘the rights necessary for individual freedom, liberty of the person, freedom of speech, thought and faith, the right to own property and to conclude valid contractors, and the right to justice’

(Marshall, 1963: 74).

Discussion of political rights followed during the nineteenth century, which included, the right to vote and stand for political office (Marshall, 1949/1992). The final element of rights was concluded with the possession of social rights to fully categorise somebody as a citizen. The concept of social rights developed primarily in the post Second World War period. Marshall’s definition of social rights has undergone much scrutiny due to his ambiguous theoretical perspective. Powell (2002) and Dwyer (2010) in particular comment on this lack of clarity,

“He is clear that there is no overarching universal principle that emphatically defines what citizenship grants or requires”

(Dwyer, 2010:39).

As Marshall (1949/92) highlights on several occasions, civil citizenship rights are entirely of the conditions of a free market economy, including a ‘free’ labour market. Conversely, Marshall appears to be rather aware of the contradictions within the various strands of citizenship, although the aspects seem to interlink it would seem they do not always agree. Potential contradictions between social and civil citizenship, Marshall openly discussed in terms of the conflict between citizenship and class (Bagguley, 2013).

As Turner (1993) indicates, Marshall’s analysis of capitalism versus democracy contained a number of ambiguities, but as a whole, Marshall strongly argued that the welfare state would limit the negative impact of class differences on individual life-chances. Ultimately this would enhance the individual’s commitment to the system. Additionally, the era of which social rights were development may affect how some individuals may interpret them (Lister, 2010).

The development of civil freedoms was a crucial step in the undoing of the hierarchical primitive limitations of status or duty to an individual’s social superiors (Lister, 2010). Civil freedoms were also a necessary foundation for the later development of the second type of rights noted by Marshall as political rights.

Marshall acknowledges four major aims to his essay. Firstly, he examines whether citizenship is compatible with the class structure in a capitalist society such as Britain. Although he states this is possible, individuals such as Faulks, (1998) feel he is ‘cautious’ in stating this. The tension between citizenship and capitalism arises out of the fact that citizenship highlights equality, while capitalism presumes inequality (Dwyer, 2010). For Marshall, the compatibility of citizenship with capitalism was due to social rights by ‘civilising’ the impact of the market (Faulks, 1998). Marshall identifies the increase of incomes, the growth of savings and the success of mass production as enabling society to redistribute wealth and social power (Lister, 2010). Developments such as the progressive tax system and the use of legal aid are shown to reduce the influence of class, effectively, creating social justice via social rights (Held and Thompson, 1989). As his second consideration, rightfully, Marshall argues that citizenship in Britain cannot be fully achieved without altering market operations of the time (Faulks, 1998). Thirdly, Marshall identifies the shift to rights away from responsibilities and the effect of this, and he considered this to be the most important aspect of citizenship in modern Britain (Somers, 2004). Finally, Marshall attempts to establish the limits of social equality and determine just how far the struggle for social justice could realistically go (Tilly, 1996). Marshall contended an image of an ‘ideal citizenship’ and thereby, a goal towards which aspirations can be directed.

T.H. Marshall’s approach to social citizenship has been regarded as a democratic socialist view. As Delanty (2002) recognised, social democracy and Marshall’s egalitarian liberalism had several aspects in common. Other influential thinkers such as Richard Titmuss shared a similar passion within the social democratic tradition (Dwyer, 2010). Dwyer (2010) and Alcock and Oakley (2001) have identified the approaches of Titmuss and Marshall, who share several resemblances. Each writer showed a considerable importance to universal unrestricted welfare rights. Furthermore, both Marshall and Titmuss, outlined the identification and consideration of the ‘class struggle’ which is notably identified as an important aspect of the development of social citizenship. Marshall and Titmuss also suggest that the development of British industrial capitalism is of greater significance for the emergence of social rights (Dwyer, 2010). Additionally, the two writers shared the same optimism about the motivations that underpin human nature. Titmuss and Marshall both assumed that citizens would mostly behave in a responsible manner and look to enhance their own lives, and the lives of fellow members of their national community, rather than abuse any benefits that social rights may bring for individual gain (Alcock and Oakley, 2001)

As Dwyer (2010), rightfully states, personal interpretation is ultimately what pins down the decision about whether or not the work of T.H. Marshall can be seen as social democratic. Key themes that are central to Social Democracy have been identified as: the promotion of equality, freedom, social integration and universal rights to welfare (Held and Thompson, 1989; Turner, 1993). Arguably Marshall’s (1949/92) endorsement of these beliefs identifies him as a social democrat of sorts, even if perhaps he moved away from this position in later life. Delanty (2000) refers to Marshall’s views as a socially democratic left wing liberal approach to citizenship.

Marshall’s Citizenship theory, although seen as pioneering, has been the forefront of many critiques (Dwyer, 2010). As Tilly (1996) states, Marxist critics of Marshall’s work on citizenship are widely known, describing the analysis Marshall has given as superficial as it does not highlight, a citizen’s right to control economic production, which has been argued as a necessity for continual shared affluence (Somers, 1994). Furthermore, feminist perspectives as stated by Lister (2008) states Marshall’s theory as being extremely confined in being solely on men, while not acknowledging, the social rights of women. (Held and Thompson 1989). Therefore, Marshall’s Theory reflects that of only the working class white male perspective (Lister, 2003). His statement that in England all people were free and had civil rights can be seen as fabricated, as at the time only men had ‘legal freedom’ or the capability to exercise political or civil rights (Lister, 2008). Additionally, Marshall does not discuss other aspects of society including second class citizens and gender and racial hierarches (Tilly, 1996). Although Marshall did not discuss the issues associated with second class citizenry, he acknowledged that citizenship itself plays a part in social inequality (Marshall, 1942/92). As once noted earlier it is important to understand the circumstances during the time of this essay were substantially different to those of modern society within Britain (Dwyer, 2010) Furthermore, Neo-liberal perspectives and free market ideology asserts that the nonparticipation of the state from economic protection is the foundation of a society with strength and goodness (Held and Thompson, 1989). Consequently they are entirely opposed to the social rights proposed by Marshall (Turner, 1993). Neo-liberals instead suggest that welfare programs such as some of the social responsibilities discussed by Marshall to help the poor in effectively utilising their civil and political rights, have promoted passivity among the poor without improving life chances and have created a culture of welfare dependency (Held and Thompson, 1989; Roche, 1992).

Citizenship, or the equality of rights it generates, becomes an integrative process counteracting the tendencies towards social division and conflict generated by the economic system. For Marshall, inequality was not an issue within itself. His focus was to find an acceptable balance between the forces for inequality and those for equality (Lewis 1998). Marshall distinguished between areas of the welfare state where greater degrees of inequality where acceptable and those where this was not the case, as the contrasts between the health service system and legal aid highlight (Marshall, 1949/92). Furthermore, this illustrated that for Marshall, citizenship constructs an affinity between rights and duties. However, this balance is not distributed equally among all who might make the claim to citizenship (Lewis, 1998).

To conclude, while considering whether citizenship is compatible with the class structure in a capitalist society such as Britain, Marshall seems cautious in stating that this is possible (Faulks, 1998). Marshall provided an evolutionary view of citizenship, developing through various stages and levels to reach its final embodiment in the principles of British welfare politics (Turner, 1993). The extent of rights and duties that citizenship entails is open to on-going debate and has been challenged over time. Nonetheless, Marshall seems positive about the enrichment of citizenship at the time of writing (Dwyer, 2010). Initially, Marshall put the relationship between the citizen, the state and the social welfare at the centre of his analysis. Marshall achieved this by his suggestion of comprising citizenship into three interlinking aspects. Marshall viewed civil, political and social rights as a result of an evolutionary process, with each element overlapping (Turner, 1993). Marshall’s citizenship is a status rendered to people who can claim full citizenship of a community. Although, as noted by Lewis (1998) Marshall did not clearly state a criteria to which people may acquire such membership. Furthermore, there is a long and ongoing debate as to whether Marshall intended his historical analysis to be interpreted as a general theory of citizenship or whether the essay was just a commentary on the developments of citizenship within England (Faulks, 1998).


Alcock, P. (1989). ‘Why Citizenship and New Welfare Rights Offer new Hope for Welfare in Britain,’ Critical Social Policy, Vol 19, no 2, pp 32-43

Alcock, P. and Oakley, A. (2001). ‘Introduction’, in P.Alcock, H Glennerster, A. Oakley and A. Sinfield (eds) Welfare and Wellbeing: Richard Titmuss’s contribution to social policy, Bristol: The Policy Press, pp1-9

Bagguley, P. (2013) “Industrial citizenship: a re-conceptualisation and case study of the UK”, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 33 no: 5/6, pp.265 – 279

Delanty, G. (2000) Citizenship in a Global Age: Society Culture and Politics, Buckingham: Open University Press

Dwyer, P. (2010). Understanding Social Citizenship: Themes and perspectives for policy and practice. 2nd ed. Great Britain: The Policy Press.

Faulks, K (1998). Citizenship in Modern Britain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Held, D. and Thompson, J. (1989). Social Theory of Modern Societies: Anthony Giddens and His Critics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lewis, G. (1998). Citizenship. In: Hughes, G. Imagining Welfare Futures. London: Routledge Ltd. pp 103-50.

Lister, R (2003). Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives. 2nd ed. New York: New York University Press. 2003.

Lister, R (2010). Understanding Theories and Concepts in Social Policy. Great Britain: The Policy Press.

Marshall, T.H. (1949/92) ‘Citizenship and social class’, in T.H. Marshall and T.Bottomore, Citizenship and social class, London: Pluto Press

Marshall, T.H. and Bottomore, T. (1992) Citizenship and social class, London: Pluto Press

Powell, M. (2002) ‘The Hidden History of Social Citizenship’, Citizenship Studies, Vol 6, no 3, pp 229-45

Somers, M. R. (1994), Rights, Relationality, and Membership: Rethinking the Making and Meaning of Citizenship. Law & Social Inquiry, 19: 63–114.

Tilly, C (1996). Citizenship, Identity and Social History. International Review of Social History, 40, pp 1-17.

Turner, B (1993). Citizenship and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Student Exam number: Y82850301


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