Hitting a Moving Target: the Negotiation of Responsible Citizenship

What kind of person can’t get behind the idea of “responsible citizenship”? It’s like being opposed to concepts like “excellence,” “a better future,” “the American dream,” or puppies. Ask every single person you know, and I bet all of them suspect that all of the aforementioned notions are “good” ideas. And “responsible citizenship” is certainly among the greatest of ideas, because a responsible citizen is someone who, amongst other things, is morally accountable for his or her actions. Thus, it is unsurprising that we who desire a “better future” are compelled to ascribe concrete meaning to notions of responsible citizenship.

However, it is important to note that while the TCU mission statement highlights the importance of “responsible citizenship,” it never goes so far as to taxonomize responsible citizenship into a series of “moral” rules and regulations. The reason for this is simple: responsible citizenship and notions of morality exist in the minds of individuals. As such, responsible citizenship is a subjective, moving target, and generalizing about the manifestations of “responsible” citizenship and “morality” invites a host of problems. For example, “responsible citizenship” assumes that a form of “irresponsible citizenship” exists, and since notions of citizenship are subjective ideas that stem from the minds of individuals, who gets to decide which citizens’ behaviors are “responsible,” and which are “irresponsible”? Should the privileged and wealthy elite decide what “responsible citizenship” looks like for people living in poverty? Should men be allowed to govern women’s bodies in the name of “responsible citizenship”? Should a straight contingency be permitted to unilaterally determine that heterosexual marriage is the only form of “responsible” marriage?

Since responsible citizenship and morality are inextricably linked, individuals or people groups with differing subjectivities will likely have differing opinions about any one attribute of “responsible citizenship.” In short, where there’s an example of “responsible citizenship” there’s another point of view in which identical behavior is deemed “irresponsible.” For this reason, we must turn our attention away from attempts that underscore singular definitions of “responsible citizenship,” favoring strategies that place greater value on the negotiations of our differences.

-Amy Tuttle, TCU Graduate Student

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