Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program devotes her eleventh blog post to the artificial societal constructs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Society’s means to organize, govern, and civically engage are artificial constructs. They interact with each other and with the intuitive, non-artificial aspects of society. As one would expect, the interactions are in continuous motion. Consequently, over long stretches of time, the distances amongst societal constructs have varied. However, history has shown several moments in time when such distances and interactions functioned at an optimal level. Could those moments inspire our look into societal futures and the ability to act towards a preferred vision?
Society’s means of organization, the nation-state and its links to international law and diplomacy, were established in 1648 by the European Peace of Westphalia. The treaty brought peace and equality amongst nations, the states they lived in, and religions they practiced, ending centuries-old fights and empires. It defined the role and responsibilities of a state, its relation to the nation(s) on its territory, and other states. At the time the model registered such great success, the concepts of nation and state almost overlapped. The distance between them was minimal.
Society’s means of governance, the political-economic-social system, is optimal when politics balance the economic and social components, maintaining the similar size of and distances amongst the three.
Society’s engagement model relies on the concepts of citizenship and residency. Citizenship seems to be closely linked to that of the nation, since most individuals would acquire it at birth, based on their parents’ citizenship. In this sense, citizenship is also closely linked to one’s ethnicity. At the same time, residency seems to link more with the administrative functions related to territory and performed by the state. In a nation-state, citizenship and residency would be identical most of the times. The distance between them would be minimal. At the same time, citizenship seems to be the tool to participate in a nation’s politics as one would require that nation’s passport to vote and participate in its democratic system. Residency is the tool to exercise one’s rights and responsibilities related to the economy and society of that state.
History describes stories of flourishing periods. One could notice that some registered minimum distances amongst its artificial societal constructs. For example, during the golden age of ancient Greek civilization, in city-states, the concepts of nation and state, and those of citizenship and residency overlapped. During Westphalian times, the distance between nation and state, citizenship and residency, and politics, on one side, and economics and society was almost nonexistent. What both these periods seem to have in common is that they operated in a network of entities that valued more local administration, e.g., the city-state rather than the broader environment.
Over the last century or so, economic dominance, migration trends, and technological evolution seem to have contributed to the decline of the nation-state, society’s way of organization. The political-economic-social balance in societal governance has also been affected. Such decline and imbalance have created confusion between the meaning of societal civic engagement, i.e., citizenship and residency. Considering the global trend toward urbanization, should society’s artificial constructs be rooted in city-level everyday life, across networks of similar environments? What would it take for urban residents to be citizens too?
Their rights and responsibilities would straddle democratic political-economic-social participation within the boundaries of their city-level everyday life. The city would resemble a state. What would be different from past flourishing periods is that not one, but multiple nations would live in this state, as it already is the case in large urban areas. Such a model would take us back to society’s non-artificial, intuitive, and fluid transitions and interactions of cultures and the questions raised by such dynamics.
© Monica Porteanu 2018