A Differentiated Universalism

  • Ruth Lister


Feminist political theorists have exposed the ways in which women’s longstanding exclusion from the theory and practice of citizenship, in both its liberal and republican clothes, has been far from accidental. The universalist cloak of the abstract, disembodied individual has been cast aside to reveal a definitely male citizen and a white, heterosexual, non-disabled one at that. This is the starting point for this chapter. The focus then widens as the category woman is itself (temporarily) deconstructed to underline the ways in which women’s exclusion from citizenship is mediated by other social divisions such as class, ‘race’, disability, sexuality and age. This, it will be argued, does not invalidate the project of engendering citizenship. It does, though, demonstrate the need for ‘a conception of citizenship which would accommodate all social cleavages simultaneously’ (Leca, 1992, p. 30). While attempts to elaborate such a conception demonstrate the difficulties, I will argue that this is the direction citizenship theory has to take, in relation to citizenship both as a status and a practice, if it is to match up to its inclusionary and universalist claims. Thus, rejecting the ‘false universalism’ of traditional citizenship theory does not mean abandoning citizenship as a universalist goal.


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© Ruth Lister 1997

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  • Ruth Lister

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