British society is increasingly fractured and fragmented. People feel isolated from their communities, as well as the political institutions that are supposed to represent them. Yet, as citizens, our actions and behaviour inevitably impact on each other and society as a whole. In the words of philosopher Michael Sandel, ‘we are more entangled, and less attached, than ever before’.
The Citizens programme at Demos will generate empirical data and expert analysis about the key social problems facing British society today, and work to develop a new post-liberal conception of citizenship.
SOCIAL PROBLEMS AND POST-LIBERAL SOLUTIONS
Politicians and civil society organisations continue to grapple with social problems that are endemic in Western liberal societies, including excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol, gangs and crime, civil unrest, and a lack of community cohesion. A new approach is needed that attempts to address the unintended consequences of liberalism: a post-liberal conception of citizenship and society. The way we define social problems and their causes, and how we respond, shapes the kind of society we live in. This programme will analyse social problems and possible solutions in terms of practical short-term actions and longer-term notions of citizenship and citizen behaviour.
David Goodhart has suggested that excessive social and economic individualism has led to an overly fragmented society. The notion of citizenship helps hold an otherwise atomised society together, reminding us of our rights and responsibilities to others. Going beyond the liberal conception of citizenship focused on individual rights, a post-liberal view places a higher premium on the laws, habits and institutions that help us live together. The Citizens programme will look at the role of institutions – such as faith groups and voluntary bodies to public services and socially minded businesses – in providing a positive notion of citizenship and responsibility.
DEMOCRACY: LOCAL AND GLOBAL
With the rise of supranational institutions and the introduction of devolution and the localism agenda, the nation state has been hollowed out from above and below. Citizenship can no longer be solely viewed through the lens of the nation. Research under the Citizens programme will look beyond the nation state to investigate the structure, culture and purpose of institutions such as the European Union and the strength of local democratic institutions.