What Does It Mean to Be a Citizen?   /   Fall 2008   /    Interview

An Interview with Theda Skocpol

Jennifer L. Geddes

Citizenship in the United States has a pretty long history of being connected to people’s active group involvements. It’s something that grows out of conversations and interactions people have with others in their communities and voluntary associations, which used to meet regularly in most communities and were connected to things going on at the state level and the national level. It’s hard to be a good citizen if you don’t have a chance to talk in an interesting and safe way about shared issues with other people, so another conception of citizenship is that it grows out of being highly educated and understanding the issues. That’s been a prominent idea in the United States since the Progressive Era, and I think there’s some truth to that. But the other deeper tradition of citizenship in the United States, which after all is one of the world’s first mass democ- racies, is that it grows out of group life and the local activities of communities, clubs, associations, and political parties.

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