I Pledge Allegiance To . . . Flexible Citizenship And Shifting Scales of Belonging
by Katharyne Mitchell & Walter C. Parker — 2008
Background: Cosmopolitans and their critics often imagine a spectrum of affinities—concentric circles of belonging reaching from the self and family to the ethnic group, the nation and, finally, to all humanity. Debates over the role schools should play in educating “world citizens” versus national patriots follow suit: Should educators work to maintain the reputedly natural, warm, and necessary scale of national allegiance, or should they attempt to produce new subjects oriented to Earth and the human family?
Purpose: In this paper, we critique the spatial assumptions that underlie this discourse. We question the assumption that affinity is attached to particular scales, that these scales are fixed rather than flexible, and that they are received rather than produced. Our examination focuses on Nussbaum’s celebrated proposal that civic education be freed from its national tether and allowed to embrace the whole world.
Research Design: In order to trouble the nation/world binary that is central to both Nussbaum’s proposal and the arguments of its many critics, we undertook a qualitative case study of youth in a western metropolitan area in the United States. Working with a theoretical sample of public and private middle and high school teachers who wanted to learn what and how their students were thinking about patriotism, citizenship, and allegiance in the year following the events of September 11, 2001, we conducted focus group interviews in their classrooms in early 2003, as the invasion of Iraq was imminent.
Findings: These youthful citizens-in-formation generally expressed a historicized affinity—constructed, contingent, and impermanent. Some of them already, in advance of the proposed civic education reform, were imagining and producing allegiances that were multiple, flexible, and relational. These allegiances do not fit neatly into the spatial models of affinity that have been constructed in some contemporary and ancient literatures, especially those that force a choice between nationalism and cosmopolitanism. These young people displayed more flexibility than the linear inner-to-outer concentric-circles model would permit.
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