Citizenship is one main element of personal self-identification. Whether people see themselves as citizens of the world, of the European Union, or just their neighbourhood is meant to have an impact on their attitudes and (political) behaviours. The steady increase of options for self-identification, especially within the EU, makes the question of multi-level identification all the more important. For most of the 20th century, citizenship was framed exclusively in terms of the nation state. According to classical theories of modernization and state-building, citizenship mediates between the state’s political authority and the national political community. By fostering the mutual recognition of the institutional and the societal, citizenship made possible the codification, public guarantee, and legitimation of an ever expanding set of (nation-based) individual rights. In recent times, however, the association between the state and citizenship has become increasingly challenged. The state level’s status as the sole referent of citizenship and producer of individual rights is weakening. How should citizenship be understood in this new scenario?

In their empirically rich and informative work, Henderson Jeffery, Wincott, and their team of contributors contend that citizenship has become multi-level. Citizenship, a wealth of original survey data shows, is conceived and exercised at both the national and the regional level. The authors argue that acknowledging this change in state-society relations means calling into questions a whole set of “nation-centred” assumptions that hamper the ability to theorize, and even observe, contemporary practices of citizenship. Citizenship after the nation state (henceforth CANS) illustrates in detail and shows all the potential of the cross-country regional-level data collected by the namesake project and similar inquiries conducted in Europe and North America. It also provides an interesting discussion of the limits of methodological nationalism, which is still dominant in the social sciences in general and in studies of political and social citizenship in particular.

Methodological nationalism and regional level citizenship

The book revolves around two main lines of argument. The first is a methodological plea for introducing a more explicit regional focus in the empirical analysis of political processes. The point is discussed in the introduction and the conclusions. Methodological nationalism, the authors contend, prevents the observation of regional scale phenomena by assuming they are less effective or less desirable than comparable events at the national level. The notion of “second order sub-national elections” and worries of a “race to the bottom” in welfare regionalisation are indicated as cases in point. The book points at the CANS project as an innovative way of adopting a regional focus to look at regional processes. Drawing on T.H. Marshall, CANS was meant to observe attitudes towards social and political citizenship at the regional level. A survey was conducted in 14 EU regions in Austria, France, Germany, Spain, and the UK, selected for their varying levels of autonomy, distinctive identity, and relative wealth.

The book suggests the existence of a “devolution paradox”, whereby preferences for devolution are not matched by preferences for decreasing uniformity at the state-wide level.

The second line of argument is an illustration of the main features of regional level citizenship. The book uses CANS data in order to assess the impact of relative regional attachment, sense of regional political efficacy, and perceived relative regional wealth on attitudinal differences between the regional and the state-wide scale concerning political participation and social solidarity. Findings do not only indicate (moderate) structures of correlation between independent and dependent variables at the aggregate level, but also the existence of individual level patterns, especially significant for people reporting well defined attitudes (either strong or weak).

Moreover, the book suggests the existence of a “devolution paradox”, whereby preferences for devolution are not matched by preferences for decreasing uniformity at the state-wide level. Varying degrees of association can be explained by two factors (and their interaction): the notion of federalism that prevails at the state level (“self-rule” or “shared rule”), and whether regions have a rooted national identity (as in Catalonia, Scotland, Wales, Galicia and to a lesser extent Bavaria) or a metropolitan character (as in Vienna or the Île de France).

Five cases

Five single-country chapters and one final cross-country chapter inquire these points in greater detail. Each country chapter provides a brief historical introduction to the national model of regional autonomy and federalism, maps the main dependent and independent variables, calculates bivariate correlations among them, and finally stages a multivariate analysis including all the independent variables as well as demographic controls. Chapters provide extensive descriptions of the data and are rich with detailed cross-tabulations, which let the readers (at least the most motivated among them) check the numbers for themselves and come up with their own evaluation of the soundness of suggested interpretations.

While having the same structure, chapters are authored by different teams of national experts, which carried out independent analyses with some margin of freedom. This means that figures are not the same and are not fully comparable across chapters, making harder for the reader to appreciate variation or patterns between countries. Chapters are also not all equally effective in dealing with the various sections. Different choices in the research design and in the exposition or interpretation of the data may result confusing at first reading, contributing to a general impression that the book was not properly edited before publication.

The horizontal comparison of chapter seven, probably the most accomplished of the book, offers some relief to the problems above. It provides a sharper examination of the structure of the data and, using nice graphs, also facilitates the eyeballing of groups of countries of regions with distinctive characteristics. At the same time, a number of puzzling findings (most notably concerning the role of perceived relative wealth) also raise questions of consistency with the preceding single-country analyses, not adequately discussed in the reminder of the book.

As soon as the general picture gets finally clearer, however, the conclusions rush into discussing extra data from spin-offs of the projects conducted in England and North America. The exercise adds further tables, descriptions, and speculations on problematic findings. The reader is left wondering whether the analysis of the new data could deserve a revision of the book structure (at least the inclusion of England within the UK chapter and a new chapter on North America) or should wait for another publication.

A great book, with some impasses

Citizenship after the nation state admittedly is “an initial and exploratory piece of work”. As many good contributions of this kind, it raises more questions than it answers. It has a real potential to start the breakthrough it so warmly advocates: shifting at the regional level the locus of choice for the analysis and observation of regional political phenomena. Its findings are stimulating, as they provide a thought-provoking mix of corroboration and puzzlement for theories and expectations on the functioning of multi-level politics. It is easy to imagine that many scholars and graduate students will be interested in CANS surveys or similar data for their research or dissertations, expanding the set of methods and techniques beyond the book’s focus on linear regressions.

The limits of the survey material and of the overall analysis might be stated more openly. Evidence in favour and against the argument could have been organised more clearly and more clearly discussed.

And yet, the book has major problems, preventing it from catering to a wider audience. Greater attention to the bigger picture and a more sharply defined set of claims would have enriched the book with a more accessible presentation of its achievements and the venues for further research. For the sake of avoiding premature theorisation and generalization, the book remains instead weakly structured, providing the reader with insufficient guidance through the many, sometimes inconclusive, analytical steps and the uncertainties of their interpretation. The lack of final revision is sometimes careless, as in the case of the French chapter, the only one to omit the R-squared of its multivariate analyses.

The final word on the worth of the contribution is left to the reader, but unsystematic differences in the research strategy and even in the core concepts and terminology used across the chapters risk leaving her confused about the bottom line. Multiple interpretations of puzzling findings are advanced by the different contributors to the volume, but remain mere speculations, with no clear indication for further research. The limits of the survey material and of the overall analysis might be stated more openly. Evidence in favour and against the argument could have been organised more clearly and more clearly discussed. The limited causal leverage of demographic variables or the limits in scope of the overall questionnaire are preliminary findings in themselves, which could have been framed more courageously, but also more constructively.

All things considered, the book comes with a mixed record. On the one hand, it gives a potentially path-setting substantive contribution. On the other, it fails to reach beyond the tentative, exploratory, and overly descriptive setup that often characterise collections of intermediate research products. Perfectly in tune with the book’s interest in multi-level governance, it is now up to the readers’ community to run the last round of revisions.

Photo Credits CC: Albert de Bruijn

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Alisa Henderson, Charlie Jeffery and Daniel Wincott (eds), Citizenship after the Nation State: Regionalism, Nationalism and Public Attitudes in Europe. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

European Identity

EU Governance


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