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date: 23 June 2017

Education for Global Citizenship

Summary and Keywords

The emergence of post-national citizenships questions the principles and values as well as the rights and responsibilities in which national citizenships were founded. Does this new reality reflect a crisis of classical liberalism and particularly of its neoliberal declination facing the new challenges of globalization and diversity? Multiculturalism, one of the answers to the dilemmas of citizenship and diversity shows signs of crisis. In these context concepts such as cosmopolitan democracies and global citizenship education have been invoked as solutions to the possible demise of the regulatory power of the nation-state and failed citizenship worldwide. The implementation of the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) in 2012 by the UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon sets a new program for education where Global Citizenship Education is predicated as a resource to enhance global peace, sustainability of the planet, and the defense of global commons.

Keywords: global citizenship education, global commons, liberal democracy, cosmopolitan democracies, global peace, sustainable development education, UNESCO, planetarian citizenship, multiculturalism


In the context of multiple globalizations, the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) launched in 2012 by the UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, predicates global citizenship education as a solution to enhance global peace, improve the sustainability of the planet, and bolster the defense of global commons. The first section discusses the phenomena of globalization and the proposal of the GEFI of furthering global citizenship, a central mantra of the UN program. The second section briefly discusses key elements affecting global peace, including growing inequality; global poverty; neoliberal globalization; banking education; and predatory cultures destroying the environment and our planet. Section three defines global citizenship education as an intervention in search of a theory. From this standpoint, section four discusses the intersections and contradictions between global citizenship, democracy and multiculturalism. The final section outlines the connections between global citizenship education, global commons, and common good.1

The Globalization of Citizenship

Globalization is a central concept and foundational background for the analysis in this chapter—it is complex and multifaceted.2 Globalization has been defined as “the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.”3 The meaning of globalization thus takes on different forms and we really should talk about globalizations processes in the plural.

Several forms of globalization can be conceived as follows. First, there is globalization from above. This is framed by an ideology of neoliberalism and calls for an opening of borders, the creation of multiple regional markets, the proliferation of fast-paced economic and financial exchanges, and the presence of governing systems other than nation-states—particularly in the form of international trade agreements enforced by the World Trade Organization.

A second form of globalization represents the antithesis of the first. This form can be described as globalization from below or anti-globalization. It manifests itself in individuals, institutions, and social movements that are actively opposed to what is perceived as corporate globalization. For these individuals and groups, their motto is “no globalization without representation.”

Another distinct form pertains more to rights than to markets—the globalization of human rights. With the growing ideology of human rights taking hold in the international system and in international law, many traditional practices endemic to the fabric of particular societies or cultures (from religious to esoteric practices) now being called into question, challenged, forbidden, or even outlawed. The advancement of cosmopolitan democracies and plural democratic multicultural global citizenship is the theme of this version of globalization.4

Globalization can also be characterized as a trademark of our contemporary world: hybridity. There are multiple forms of hybridity crossing the globe. For example, hip-hop cultures that were born in the Bronx now have Japanese, Indian, or Chinese practitioners and cultural modalities. What all of them have in common is that they are showing some form of opposition to the establishments and new ways for youth cultures to express themselves. Another prominent form of hybridity is related to intermarriages that create new categories not easily classified within traditional taxonomies of race and/or ethnicity in demographic surveys.

A fifth manifestation of globalization can be characterized by the intersection of two processes defined by the concepts of the “information society” and the “knowledge society.” The idea of the information society rests on the ability of digital cultures to beam information to all corners of the globe almost instantaneously, affecting the equation of time and space like never before—and is intimately linked with the idea of a network society made possible by developments in digital cultures technologies.5 This face of globalizations is impacting drastically global (cultural and material) productions. Its twin, the emergence of the knowledge society (itself an outcome of robotization and digital cultures) dramatically impacts the way we conceive the factors of production, which were traditionally considered land, capital, labor, and technology. Now we add a fifth factor of production: knowledge.

A by-product of the former yet distinct form is well articulated by what was defined on the threshold of the 21st century as the “network society.”6 Never before have social networks been as widely discussed as they are in the 21st century—a day in which living in the so-called network society seems to be a prevailing motto. The presence of these networks alters some traditional dimensions of human life. Questions about academic authority and moral character become central elements in discussing the credibility of messages, methods, research, data, analyses, and narratives that pullulate in the Internet.

A seventh manifestation of globalization extends beyond markets and to some extent is against human rights. It is globalization of the international war against terrorism. This new form of globalization has been prompted in large part by the events of 11 September 2001—which were interpreted as the globalization of the terrorist threat—and the reaction of the United States to said event. This form of globalization is represented by the anti-terrorist response, which has been militaristic in nature, resulting in two coalition wars led by the United States against Muslim regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Islamophobia is also a theme of this globalization. Terrorism and the terrorist threat were made synonymous with Islam and Muslims becoming a global norm. Yet the overall theme of this process was not only its military flavor but also the emphasis on security and control of borders, people, capital, and commodities—that is, the reverse of open markets and high-paced commodity exchanges. Security as a precondition of freedom is a key theme of this form of globalization.

Finally, an eighth form of globalization, namely the globalization of terrorism is well represented by the al-Qaeda network, with terrorist actions of many kinds. Examples of these actions include Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 300 girls from a Christian school in Nigeria, forcing them to convert to Islam and having them forcefully married to fighters. Another example is the growing consolidation of ISIS in the Middle East providing a platform, a kind of sacred fire for youth who are disaffected with modernity and Western practices. Thousands of youths have moved to Iraq and Syria to fight for what they believe is a sacred cause of social change, leading to the establishment of a new Caliphate in the Levant and Middle East. The motto of terrorism is probably best defined in the following terms: Only chaos will bring about freedom. Let me be clear on one point. As describe by many the war against terrorism has singled out specific populations, religions, and countries and therefore implies a challenge to the human rights regime. However, the level of anarchy in the world system that terrorism in all its forms has created calls for a global solution, particularly in its most violent expressions such as ISIS controlling territories, imposing specific draconian laws, or beheading those they consider their enemies for an inadmissible spectacle of terror via digital culture. The search for solutions is underway and different institutions are now considering how education can help to prevent extremist violence.

In this seemingly chaotic scenario or what some have defined as a risk society,7 when secretary-general of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, launched in 2012 the GEFI he envisioned education as the linchpin for reducing poverty and hunger, to end wasted potential—and as a key element for the development of stronger and better societies for all. Three pillars support this initiative: putting every child into school, improving the quality of learning, and fostering global citizenship. By cultivating the third pillar (i.e., global citizenship education) new programs of a teaching and research for global learning. As regions of the world face multifaceted crises, global learning that is fostered by global citizenship education becomes an essential tool to not only build understanding across borders and cultures but to advance our social, political, economic, and environmental interconnectedness necessary to address global and local issues. Raising the stakes by launching the Global Education First Initiative, and linking education for all with quality of education, UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon spoke of global citizenship as a new model of intervention in securing peace and sustainable development in the global system.8

Global Citizenship Education and Global Peace

The first answer of why we need global citizenship education is that global citizenship education contributes to global peace. But how can we define global peace? The Global Peace Index ranks 162 countries covering 99.6% of the world’s population. The Index gauges global peace by noting the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic or international conflict, and the degree of militarization. It ranks countries according to 22 indicators of peace.9 Some of the key findings of the Global Peace Index are the following:

  1. 1. Peace is correlated to indicators such as income, schooling, and the level of regional integration.

  2. 2. Peaceful countries often shared high levels of transparency of government and low corruption.

  3. 3. Small, stable countries that are part of regional blocks are most likely to get a higher ranking.10

What are the main problems affecting global peace? Domination, aggression, exploitation, discrimination and oppression of people, families, communities, nations, and the planet are crucial elements to undermine progress, peace, and happiness on earth.

Paulo Freire, recognizing that relations of domination are central to public and private life, argued that domination, aggression, and violence are an intrinsic part of human and social life. Any political education nourishing the construction of a public sphere should recognize that overcoming oppression, domination, and exploitation is a central goal of any project of global democratic citizenship building.11

There are multiple manifestations of structural violence that add to individual, collective, and government actions undermining peace. I would like to emphasize briefly some of the problems in the global system undermining peace and prosperity and to put in the conceptualization of Freire as structural violence.12 These clusters of problems include but cannot be restricted to: (1) unabated poverty; (2) growing inequality; (3) neoliberal globalization that has weakened the systems of organized solidarity of the democratic nation-state; (4) banking education with authoritarian and inadequate curriculum in elementary, secondary, and higher education; and (5) destruction of the planet’s eco-system. What follows is a brief description of each cluster problem, which will deserve a specific in-depth description and analysis that cannot be provided herein.


Economic inequality is a palpable reality. The crisis of 2008 has made even more evident the importance of the growing inequality that has affected market democracies, and particularly affecting the middle class. As I have said elsewhere, “A casualty of these crisis in the global economy has been the loss of jobs, which has in turn increased inequality and poverty. In a recent book Jim Clifton Chairman of Gallup Corporation argues that of the 7 billion people in the world, 5 billion are over 15 years of age. Three billion said they currently work or wanted to work, yet only 1.2 billion have full-time formal jobs. Hence there is a shortfall of 1.8 billon jobs worldwide.”13 Facing a jobless society, the educational system and the university system have many challenges, from being able to offer a service without pricing itself out of the market or being partially responsible from what some see as the new bubble of crisis in capitalism: student’s massive debts to showing that the course work in which student engages will have a positive pay off in the markets, and may make students more marketable and productive, hence enhancing the levels of accountability of universities.

In his monumental study documenting growing global inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty Professor of the École des Hautes Etudes argues, “Today, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, inequalities of wealth that had supposedly disappear are close to regaining or even surpassing their historical highs. The new global economy has brought with it both immense hopes (such as the eradication of poverty) and equally immense inequalities (some individuals are now as wealthy as entire countries).”14


Unabated poverty remains a stubborn fact deeply affecting the daily life of billions of people. Measurements of poverty abound, showing unequivocally that poverty and social exclusion are persistent, more so in rural areas than in urban areas—though the marginal labor force in urban areas, having migrated from the rural areas, remain mostly in an occupational limbo and temporary jobs. While the World Bank Global Monitoring Report (2014) claims that there are gains, the line of demarcation of extreme poverty (people living under the poverty line of 1.90 dollars per day) constitutes 900 million people or roughly one-seventh of the world population.15 As the new Global Monitoring Report suggest: “Despite solid development gains, progress has been uneven, and significant work remains. With an estimated 900 million people in 2012 living on less than $1.90 a day—the updated international poverty line—and a projected 700 million in 2015, extreme poverty remains unacceptably high.16.” One of the paradoxes of poverty is that advances worldwide preventing children to die before their fifth birthday have brought more surviving children from poor families into higher poverty levels than before.

Neoliberal Globalization

We should talk about globalizations in the plural. It is worthwhile to emphasize the implications of some of these forms of globalizations for education. Without any doubt, the dominant form of neoliberal globalization has affected “competition-based reforms” transforming educational policy in K–12 and higher education. These reforms are characterized by efforts to create measurable performance standards through extensive standardized testing (the new standards and accountability movement that lined to the “banking education” model we describe below), introduction of new teaching and learning methods leading to the expectation of better performance at low cost (e.g., universalization of textbooks), and improvements in the selection and training of teachers. Competition-based reforms in higher education tend to adopt a vocational orientation and to reflect the point of view that colleges and universities exist largely to serve the economic well-being of a society. Privatization is a major reform effort linked to neoliberal globalization and perhaps the most dominant. There is no question that multiple faces of globalization and globalization agendas described above are playing a major role in defining the role and purposes of education today—and more so when one confronts the dialectics of the global and the local.

Global citizenship education interacts with globalization and neo-liberalism, key concepts that designate global movements that have come to define our era of global interdependence. Global capitalism, which reflects the interaction of globalization and neo-liberalism, now defines the top-down model of global hegemonic dominance, which rests on the power of elites, multinational corporations, bilateral and multilateral organisms, and the global and regional power of nations—who in turn exercise control over people, commodities, territories, capital, and resources of all kinds, the environment included.

Neoliberalism has utterly failed as a viable model of economic development, yet the politics of culture associated with neoliberalism are becoming the new common sense shaping the role of government and education. Privatization policies are preferred policy instruments, even if the outcome of some of its instruments, as in the implementation of vouchers, are not clear in its benefits against traditional models of schooling financing.17 This “common sense” has become an ideology playing a major role in constructing hegemony as moral and intellectual leadership in contemporary societies. Two elements radically affect the formulation of public policy: privatization and the reduction of public spending. These two policies are highly compatible, and in fact, privatization can be considered an important strategy for achieving reductions in public spending.

Neoliberal globalization, predicated on the dominance of the market over the state and on deregulatory models of governance, has deeply affected the university in the context of “academic capitalism.” The resulting reforms, rationalized as advancing international competitiveness, have affected public universities in four primary areas: efficiency and accountability, accreditation and universalization, international competitiveness, and privatization. There is also growing resistance to globalization as top-down-imposed reforms reflected in the public debates about schooling reform, curriculum and instruction, teacher training, and school governance. One of the most dominant outcomes of neoliberal policies and their attempt to undermine the regulatory policies of nation-states have diluted organized solidarity, and particularly the safety network implemented in the models (with national and regional variations) of the welfare state.18

Neoliberal globalization is not wholly hegemonic, pervasive, all encompassing, or uncontested at the local and global levels. Likewise, while this article asserts that, in terms of policy orientations, the early 21st century is the age of neoliberalism, it does not, as any hegemonic model, go uncontested. Nor has it demonstrated itself to be technically—and more importantly, politically—capable of ruling with an “iron fist” that cannot be challenged or defeated. Global citizenship education should play a major role in challenging neoliberalism, but as any other concept, it could become a sliding signifier, and hence it could be coopted and implemented following a neoliberal rationality.19

Banking Education

Traditional models of education built on the power of teachers in the classrooms through a teacher-centered pedagogy, and the overwhelming power of educational bureaucracies had been challenged and criticized by Paulo Freire and a host of educational reformers as banking education. The metaphor of banking education, based on the idea that students are empty vessels that need to be filled with knowledge is a strong metaphor that calls for changes at several levels. One of the key changes is to recognize that the students of all ages that come to our classrooms bring with them knowledge and experience, and they can make serious contributions to teaching and learning. Freire posit this in the analogy of the teacher as a student (which is an obvious fact since we continue to learn until our last breath) and the student as a teacher (since they bring questions, analysis, or live experience that enrich, challenges, defies, and even improve upon the instructional design). Authoritarian educational models, as argued by Freire and a number of pedagogues of liberation, undermines student autonomy and creativity and reproduces rules and regulations that perpetuate discrimination, domination, exploitation, and oppression. The alternative that has been suggested is problem-posing education, which confronts the students with questions—and often their own questions in learning and instructions—rather than “off the shelf” preconceived answers based on instrumental rationality.

For banking education, the teacher is the subject of the pedagogical adventure and the student is the object. Freire’s contribution to understanding education as the act of freedom is an invitation to see the interminable dialectics in the struggle to free us and others from constraints. In and of itself, the struggle for liberation is another form of intervention that can be considered part of the ethics of intervention. Certainly, education as the act of freedom implies a different perspective on local, socially constructed, and generationally transmitted knowledge. It also implies a perspective that challenges normal science and non-participatory planning, constructing a theoretical and methodological perspective that is always suspicious of any scientific relationship as concealing relationships of domination.20

Contemporary expressions of “banking education” are not only traditional authoritarian models that have proven inefficient but still survive in many countries. A new incarnation is the standards model associated with high-stakes testing. They have resulted in a back-to-basics goals based on three key strategies, standardization, competition, and corporatization, which have not obtained the expected results: “The standards movement is not achieving the objectives it has set for itself. Meanwhile, it is having catastrophic consequences on students’ engagements and teacher morale.”21

Predatory Cultures and Destruction of the Planet

Predatory cultural and technical practices have deeply affected the eco-systems. The planet is our only home, and we should prevent its ecological destruction. After a UN decade of education for sustainable development, it is clear the need for policy orientations linking Planetarian Citizenship, global citizenship education, sustainable development, and global peace. Though we do not have the space in this chapter to discuss the intersections between global citizenship education and education for sustainable development, it is worthwhile to mention the priority action areas highlighted in the UNESCO Roadmap linking both models.22 They are as follows:

PRIORITY ACTION AREA 1. Advancing policy: Mainstream ESD into both education and sustainable development policies to create an enabling environment for ESD and to bring about systemic change.

PRIORITY ACTION AREA 2. Transforming learning and training environments: integrate sustainability principles into education and training settings.

PRIORITY ACTION AREA 3. Building capacities of educators and trainers: increase the capacities of educators and trainers to more effectively deliver ESD.

PRIORITY ACTION AREA 4. Empowering and mobilizing youth: multiply ESD actions among youth.

PRIORITY ACTION AREA 5. Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level: at community level, scale up ESD programs and multistakeholder ESD networks.

Needless to say that we have to work within formal, non-formal, and informal systems of education to bridge the gap between policy and practice, aligning in all systems the concepts of education for sustainable development and global citizenship education as a new paradigm.

These are some of the “cardinal sins” of the global system that may be confronted by the implementation of global citizenship education as an educational counterpart of a global policy reform in areas of economics, politics, morality, and ethics. What it is and how can this be implemented is a question that deserves scrutiny.

Global Citizenship Education: An Intervention in Search of a Theory

A central premise of this analysis is that global citizenship as articulated in the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), and UNESCO’s work on global citizenship education has been conceived as an intervention that is still in search for a robust theory.

Global citizenship education is seen as an intervention dealing with

a new class of global challenges which require some form of collective response to find effective solutions. These include increasingly integrated and knowledge-driven economies; greater migration between countries and from rural to urban areas; growing inequalities; more awareness of the importance of sustainable development and including concerns about climate change and environmental degradation; a large and growing youth demographic; the acceleration of globalization; and rapid developments in technology. Each of these elements carries far-reaching implications, and taken together, these represent a period of transition of historical significance. Education systems need to respond to these emerging global challenges which require a collective response with a strategic vision that is global in character, rather than limited to the individual country level.23

Theories of global citizenship have been studied in diverse knowledge fields for quite a long time. Still, there is a need for a theory to articulate the concept of global citizenship and its intervention in education: “No clear definition of global citizenship—or as otherwise referred to, cosmopolitan or world citizenship—have been concisely articulated.”24

Global citizenship is a form of intervention in searching for a theory and an agency of implementation; this is because the world is becoming increasingly interdependent and diverse and its borders more porous.25 There is “a deterritorializing of citizenship practices and identities, and of discourses about loyalty and allegiance.”26

A claim in this chapter is that any definition and theory of global citizenship should address what has become the trademark of globalization: cultural diversity. Therefore, global citizenship should encapsulate a definition of global democratic multiculturalism. In addition, to be effective and acceptable worldwide, conceptualizing and implementing global citizenship within education, it is imperative that global citizenship adds value to national citizenship. Yet the expansion of a universalistic claim of world solidarity rests on the concept of cosmopolitan citizenship nested in a model of cosmopolitan democracies.27

Global citizenship cannot be seen as an alternative to or a substitution for national citizenship. On the contrary, it is a substantive policy tool to reinforce the robustness of representative and participatory democracies worldwide. Global citizenship education ultimately seeks to guarantee the social democratic pact on the rights of persons, and not only the rights of property.28 Yet there is more. We have learned after a decade of education for sustainable development that we need also to guarantee the rights of the planet. Global citizenship will offer new contributions to expand education for sustainable development worldwide.29

The gist of this argument is that global citizenship adds value to national citizenship. Moreover, because national citizenships could be considered unfinished business or work in progress, the value added of global citizenship may be another layer of support for a process of transforming citizenship making and citizenship education into models based on principles of liberty and equality for all, including what Seyla Benhabib, Jacques Derrida, and Garret Brown call the “rights of hospitality” in the Kantian sense.30

Global citizenship is marked by an understanding of global ties, relations, and connections and a commitment to the collective good. Robert Rhoads and Carlos Alberto Torres advanced the idea of “democratic multicultural citizenship” in which education helps students to develop the dispositions and abilities to work across social and cultural differences in a quest for solidarity. They argued that such skills are essential to citizenship in a multicultural, global environment.31

Furthermore, Robert A. Rhoads and Katalin Szelényi have developed this thesis with foci on the responsibilities of universities. Rhoads and Szelényi’s position is that we should “advance a view of citizenship in which the geographic reference point for one’s sense of rights and responsibilities is broadened, and in some sense, complicated by a more expansive spatial vision and understanding of the world.”32

They go on to argue that “the engagement of individuals as citizens reflects understandings of rights and responsibilities across three basic dimensions of social life: the political (including civic aspects), the economic (including occupational aspects), and the social (including cultural aspects).”33 In this vein, Soysal advanced a “postnational” definition of citizenship in which one’s rights and responsibilities are rooted not in the nation-state but instead are tied to one’s personhood: “What were previously defined as national rights become entitlements legitimized on the basis of personhood.”34

Others scholars speak of a denationalized definition of citizenship considering new conditions affecting citizenship in novel terms. With the onset of multiple processes of globalization the positions of nation-states in the world and their institutional features have changed. These transformations in the nation-state have a parallel effect in the emergence of new actors, including transnational social movements unwilling to respect the traditional levels of political representation within nation-states.35

Given these foundations, it is imperative to confront the challenges of building global citizenship education with the challenges of democracy and multiculturalism in a global world.

Global Citizenship, Democracy, and Multiculturalism in a Global World

The questions of citizenship, democracy, and multiculturalism are at the heart of the discussion worldwide on educational reform, deeply affecting the academic discourse and practice of education. Democracy is a slider signifier, meaning different things to different people. There are minimal procedural conditions of democracy, advocated by constitutional models of democracy. A social democratic approach prefers aggregative forms of democracy as proposed by Robert Dahl, based on equal rights and liberties. More contemporarily, there is a deliberative concept of democracy: “On a deliberative conception of democracy, political actors are viewed as capable of being motivated by a desire to promote the common good.”36 Cloaked in different robes, questions about citizenship, the connections between education and democracy, or the problem of multiculturalism affect most of the decisions that we face in dealing with the challenges of contemporary education.

Theories of citizenship and theories of democracy mark the advent of modern political science and reflect, in their complexities, the theoretical and practical challenges to democracy in contemporary societies. Both also underline the dilemmas of negotiating power in democratic societies.

Theories of citizenship relate to every problem of the relations between citizens and the state and among citizens themselves, while theories of democracy relate clearly to the connection between established—hidden and explicit—forms of social and political power, the intersection between systems of democratic representation and participation with systems of political administrative organization of public governance and with political party systems. Ultimately, theories of democracy need to address the overall interaction between democracy and capitalism.

Finally, theories of multiculturalism, so prevalent in the educational field in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, have emerged as a particular response to the constitution of the pedagogical subject in schools or to the interaction between diverse pedagogical subjects and political subjects in democratic societies. They appear important in understanding multiple identities in education and culture. In short, theories of multiculturalism are intimately connected to the politics of culture and education.

Thus, theories of multiculturalism relate to the main analytical purpose of theories of citizenship. Both attempt to identify the sense and sources of identity and the competing forms of national, regional, ethnic, or religious identity. Yet theories of multiculturalism have addressed the implications of class, race, and gender for the constitution of identities and the role of the state in a way that mainstream theories of citizenship mostly have not. While the interconnections between identity and citizenship are not at all evident in the specialized bibliography, they have a practical grounding that also brings them closer to theories of democracy. This is so because not only are theories of democracy preoccupied with participation, representation, and checks and balances of power, but some brands also are concerned with ways to promote solidarity beyond particular interests of specific forms of identity.

Theories of citizenship, democracy, and multiculturalism, in their specific spheres of influence and empirical locus, strive to identify a sense of identity (for the notion of a democratic citizen and a multicultural political subject) including all its contradictory sources. They also seek to vigorously define the limits and possibilities of forms of sociability that will promote the ability of individuals to understand, appreciate, tolerate and work together with people who are different from them. Likewise, these theories may enhance people’s (or in a more restricted formulation, citizens’) ability and desire to participate in the political process of promoting the public good and accountability. Finally, these theories will help individuals’ willingness to exercise self-restraint and personal responsibility in their economic demands and in personal choices that affect the health and wealth of society and the environment as well as the process of community formation. This is so because, as Jürgen Habermas has convincingly argued: “The institutions of constitutional freedom are only worth as much as a population makes of them.”37

The dilemmas of citizenship in a democratic diverse multicultural society can be outlined as follows: theories of citizenship had been advanced—in the tradition of Western political theory—by white, heterosexual males who identified a homogeneous citizenship through a process of systematic exclusion rather than inclusion in the polity. That is, women, identifiable social groups (e.g., Jews, Gypsies), working-class people, members of specific ethnic and racial groups (i.e., people of color), and individuals lacking certain attributes or skills (i.e., literacy or numeracy abilities) were in principle excluded from the definition of citizens in numerous societies.

Theories of democracy, while effective in identifying the sources of democratic power, participation, and representation in legitimate political democratic systems, had been unable to prevent the systemic exclusion of large segments of citizenry. Thus, formal democracy drastically differs from substantive democracy. More worrisome still is the fact that theories of democracy had been unable to differentiate the roots of representative democracy (based on the notions of equal representation, equity, and equality) from their immersion in the foundational principles that articulate capitalist societies. By definition, capitalism requires differential representation in power and politics, fostering inequity formation through hierarchies and competing interests and inequality through the workings of a profit-seeking system.

Theories of multiculturalism have been effective in discussing the politics of culture and identity and the differential sources of solidarity across and within specific forms of identity. They have been insightful in showing the remarkable complexity of multiple identities. However, they had been unable or unwilling to embrace a theory of citizenship and a theory of democracy that could be workable, in practical, procedural terms; ethically viable, in moral terms; and politically feasible in the context of capitalist civil societies. More so considering the global interpenetrations of economies, cultures, and politics.

We need a theory of global democratic multicultural citizenship that will take seriously the need to develop a theory of democracy that will help to ameliorate (if not eliminate altogether) the social differences, inequality, and inequity pervasive in capitalist societies and a theory of democracy able to address the draconian tensions between democracy and capitalism, on the one hand, and among social, political, and economic democratic forms, on the other.38

With these theoretical considerations in mind, it is imperative to define the foundational terms of global citizenship. Our definition of global citizenship dovetails nicely with the central components of a global Education for Sustainable Development. Our definition is based on the concept of global commons understood in parallels with the concept of common good.

Global Citizenship, Global Commons and Common Good: Peace, Planet, and People

Since ancient times philosophers have discussed the concept of common good, and this is not the place to provide heuristic analyses of this foundational concept in politics. Suffice it to say, following the ethicist John Rawls, that “government is assumed to aim at the common good, that is, at maintaining conditions and achieving objectives that are similarly to everyone’s advantage.”39 This position clearly antagonizes the idea of the invisible hand of the market “that turns self-interest into common good.”40

Though common good is a key concept in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition and entrenched in Catholic theology and social doctrine, there are a number of criticisms of the concept. From a relativist position, it is argued that a concept of common good is inconsistent with a pluralist society. Second, there is the free-rider problem in which some individuals benefit from common good without putting their own share of efforts in building this common good. A third criticism emerges from the utilitarian philosophy of individualism rejecting what is seen as dominant communitarism. Unequal sharing of burden is a fourth critique, since developing and sustaining a common good requires differential effort by different groups.41

Despite these reservations, we would argue that the philosophy of human rights establishes a basic platform of values for the common good and the notion of the “good society.”42 Individualism versus collectivism or communitarianism is a perpetual tension in organized societies, but this tension does not deny the importance of a concept of common good as the notion of a good society to guide citizenship building. Similarly, there are always differential appropriations and use of resources, but this article will argue that developing a concept of common good that could inspire global citizenship will diminish rather than enhance free riders. The unequal sharing of burdens is already a problem with growing inequality. A global concept of the common good will confront this problem head on and help us think of a model of society we want to achieve and how to reach that goal.

Once a concept of the common good or global commons is defined, we need to define the concept of global citizenship. It is important to move beyond historical or legal considerations, and to move beyond the notion of citizenship as a kind of personal status, a combination of rights and duties that those who are legal members of the nation-state hold or should hold.

A theory of what a good citizen is or should be relatively independent of the formal premises of the legal question of what it is to be a citizen. This is so because of the dual theoretical concerns of citizenship: citizenship as identity and as a set of civic virtues. Yet civic virtues need a civil minimum that can be found only in a historical-structural context where these civil minimums overlap with basic material conditions. One may also ask what are those civil minimums and civic virtues in a globalized world?

Global citizenship needs not to focus exclusively on the status and role associated to citizenship (obtained either through ius sanguinis or ius solis). It should focus on civic minimums that should work at a global level, and civic virtues that are needed to accomplish this model of global citizenship education. Questions of stateless people, aboriginal communities, and refugees challenge the nature of citizenship in our globalized societies.43

Two key elements of citizenship should be defined at the outset. First, civic minimums, because full participation in citizenship as argued by T. H. Marshall rest ultimately on material bases. Hence, growing poverty and inequality exclude large segments of individuals from active citizenship. An economic citizenship cannot be accomplished without bare essentials, including the right to a job, education, medical care, housing, and retraining over the life course. From a Marshallian perspective, the notion of democracy as a civil and political right cannot be excluded from the notion of democracy as a socioeconomic right.44

Also important are civic virtues. Amy Gutman, writing from a philosophical Western perspective, has argued that “education for citizenship should focus on the justification of rights rather than responsibilities, and, at the same time, that schools should foster general virtues (courage, law-abidingness, loyalty), social virtues (autonomy, open-mindedness) economic virtues (work ethic, capacity to delay self-gratification) and political virtues (capacity to analyze, capacity to criticize).”45

With these general virtues, this article has expressed the need for a set of civic virtues nurtured by a democratic multicultural ethics. That is “an antiracist, antisexist, and anti-classist philosophy based on tolerance, an epistemology of curiosity à la Freire, a rejection of cynicism and nihilist postures, a secular spiritually of love, and skillful engagement in dialogue as a method but also as a process of cognition constitute central virtues of a democratic multicultural citizenship, a bridge between foundational canons and cultures.”46

The question of relationship among citizenship, the nation-state, and the city, seems to be part of some kind of Greek law of eternal return. Citizenship was created in cities, hence the citoyen. Today, however, there is a disparity between citizenship building in the nation-state and citizenship building in the context of the cities, particularly the global cities: “In the context of a strategic space such as the global city, the types of disadvantaged people described here are not simply marginal; they acquire presence in a broader political process that escapes the boundaries of the formal polity. This presence signals the possibility of a politics. What this politics will be will depend on the specific projects and practices of various communities. Insofar as the sense of membership of these communities is not subsumed under the national, it may well signal the possibility of a politics that, while transnational, is actually centered in concrete localities.”47

This article has argued that global citizenship should add value to national citizenship and to the global commons. But what is this global commons? And how can global citizenship add value? Global commons is defined by three basic propositions. The first is that our planet is our only home, and we have to protect it through a global citizenship sustainable development education, moving from diagnosis and denunciation into action and policy implementation. Recently the government of Ecuador has enshrined in the Constitution the rights of nature, which follows an important learning of a whole decade of education for sustainable development: climate justice.48 The long march for global planetarian citizenship has begun.

Secondly, global commons is predicated on the idea that global peace is an intangible cultural good of humanity with immaterial value. Global peace is a treasure of humanity.

Thirdly, global commons is predicated on the need to find ways for people to live together democratically in an ever-growing diverse world, seeking to fulfill their individual and cultural interest and achieving their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The great question about peace is how we can cultivate the spirit of solidarity across the lines of difference.49 Global citizenship may help global peace, planet, and people through its contribution to civic engagement, in its classical dimensions of knowledge, skills, and values. There is a cosmopolitan imperative as suggested in many publications by Ulrich Beck (2006), an imperative of economic equality, welfare, and cultural diversity that may produce an individual who may admire others more for their differences than for their similarities.

In the end a concept of global citizenship could be based on a particular appraisal of the importance of spirituality (secular and/or religious) in the life of people and communities. In multiple debates, it is argued for the creation of a movement of global spirituality as global consciousness.50 Many have argued for the need of a Council of World Consciousness as one of the engines of the global commons, and one way in which our human civilization, creeds, and faiths can accomplish a rich and informed dialogue in solidarity. I am sure we can work on this project as part of the conversation on global citizenship education.

Thus planet, peace, and people constitute the global commons. This holistic definition of global citizenship can only be implemented if we focus on a global system of governance that plays the role of a global equalizer to smooth over the deficiencies emerging from nation-state conflicts affecting the rest of the system. Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio addressing a Kantian paradox asks the appropriate question: “Can a state be fully democratic in a world that is not (as yet) democratic.” Posing a Kantian dilemma in considering the relationships between domestic and international systems, Bobbio points to a vicious circle: “States can become democratic only in a fully democratic international society, but a fully democratized international society presupposes that all the states that compose it are democratic. The completion of one process is hindered by the non-completion of the other.”51

T. H. Marshall’s model argued that the nature of the welfare state guarantees social integration and cohesiveness of the polity and the exercise of rights and responsibilities of the citizen. Should we consider that this global system of governance might rest on a globalized form of the welfare state as a guarantee of global citizenship? If so, how can it be constructed? How can we deal with the challenge of scale, assuming that global citizenship works at several levels: from the documented individual to the undocumented immigrant, from the global city, to the countryside and to the nation-state, from the community to the individual, and from application of the law in the nation-state to concrete practices of politics in disenfranchised communities.

Asking whether global citizenship education may nurture a culture of global peace, human rights, and democracy is an important question. It is also relevant because, traditionally, citizenship education has been associated to “civic education”: that is, the teaching of constitutional democracy as a way to facilitate conflict resolution and conviviality. Three categories are associated with civics education: civic knowledge, which in the context of constitutional democracy entails the knowledge of basic concepts informing the practice of democracy such as public elections, majority rule, citizenship rights and obligations, constitutional separation of power, and the placement of democracy in a market economy that is used as the basic premises of civil society. The second category associated with citizenship building is civic skills, which usually means the intellectual and participatory skills that facilitate citizenship’s judgment and actions. The last category is civic virtues, usually defined in light of liberal principles such as self-discipline, compassion, empathy, civility, tolerance, and respect.

The central question is the creation of a global democratic multicultural citizenship that facilitates an education for democracy and a global consciousness. How to build better schools— that is, intellectually richer schools—particularly for those who are at the bottom of society? How to build a global democratic multicultural citizenship curriculum where everybody learns from the rich diversity of society and where the trends toward balkanization and separatism in modern societies can be prevented and even reversed? How we can address the experience of the uneducated, unemployed, angry, and disenfranchised youth bulge implementing new models of learning and praxis? How we can effectively link global citizenship education praxis with education for sustainable development worldwide? We can do a better job in preparing teachers capable of working in school settings that become the center of collective experience and solidarity.

Cosmopolitan democracies may engender global citizenship education considering the growing presence of transnational social movements that focus on issues of equity, equality, or the defense of the planet biomass and diversity.52 Global citizenship education may be enhanced by the strengthening of an international global system of international relations consolidated around the United Nations as a supranational model for conflict resolution. Finally, global citizenship education exemplifies the growing presence of the legal framework of human rights as a principle of orderly negotiation within and across nation-states of the principles of human and environmental protection. But as I have concluded elsewhere “It is important therefore, to emphasize that citizenship education is wedded to politics and by implication is a contested concept, one that relates to the notion that sociologists call ‘political socialization’ a notion that, in turn, links the formation of individuals to state policies.”53

The struggle for citizenship building has been marked by revolutions and war, but also peaceful marches of non-violence side by side to bloodshed. Let us take advantage of the legitimacy of UNESCO’s “soft” power and launch the silent revolution for global citizenship education worldwide.


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(1.) We have discussed the connections between global citizenship education and the conundrums of multiculturalism and interculturalism in Massimiliano Tarozzi and Carlos Alberto Torres (in press). Global Citizenship Education and the Crises of Multiculturalism. Comparative Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury.

(2.) I have developed these arguments in Carlos Alberto Torres’s (2009). Education and Neoliberal Globalization. Introduction by Pedro Noguera. New York and London: Routledge; see also Torres’s (2009). Globalizations and education: Collected essays on class, race, gender, and the state. Introduction by Michael W. Apple, Afterword by Pedro Demo. New York and London: Teachers College Press-Columbia University; see also Torres’s (2015). Global citizenship and global universities: The age of global interdependence and cosmopolitanism, European Journal of Education, 3, 262–279.

(3.) See D. Held (Ed.). (1991). Political theory today (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), p. 9.

(4.) See R. A. Rhoads, & K. Szelényi (2011). Global citizenship and the university: advancing social life and relations in an interdependent world (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press).

(5.) UNESCO (2005). Towards knowledge societies (Paris: UNESCO World Report).

(6.) C. Manuel (1996). The rise of the network society (Cambridge, U.K.: Blackwell).

(7.) B. Ulrich (1998). World risk society (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press).

(11.) C. A. Torres (1998). Democracy, education, and multiculturalism: Dilemmas of citizenship in a global world (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield), 246. See also C. A. Torres (2014). First freire: Early writings in social justice education (New York: Teachers College Press); and M. Gadotti (2004). Os Mestres de Rousseau (São Paulo: Cortez Editores).

(12.) For an analysis of Freire’s contributions see Torres, Carlos Alberto (2014). First freire: Early writings in social justice education (New York: Teachers College Press).

(13.) C. A. Torres (2013). Comparative education: The dialectics of globalization and its discontents, in R. Arnove, C. A. Torres & Stephen Franz (Eds.), Comparative education: The dialectics of the global and the local. 4th ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield), p. 472.

(14.) T. Piketty (2014). Capital in the twenty first century (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press), p. 471.

(15.) World Bank (2014/2015). Ending poverty and sharing prosperity. Global Monitoring Report

(16.) The new World Bank Monitoring Report entitled Development Goals in an Era of Demographic Change situate 900 people below the line of poverty

(17.) C.A. Torres (2011). Public universities and the neoliberal common sense: Seven iconoclastic theses, International Studies in Sociology of Education, 21(3), 177–197; and C. A. Torres (2013). Neoliberalism as a new historical bloc: A Gramscian analysis of neoliberalism’s common sense in education, International Studies in Sociology of Education, 23(2), 80–106.

(18.) R. A. Rhoads, & C. A. Torres (Eds.). (2006). The University, State, and Market. The Political Economy of Globalization in the Americas (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press).

(19.) L. Shultz (2015). Decolonizing UNESCO’S Post-2015 Education Agenda: Global Social Justice and a View from UNDRIP, Postcolonial Directions in Education, 4(2), 96–115.

(20.) C. A. Torres (2009). Carlos Alberto. Globalizations and Education: Collected Essays on Class, Race, Gender, and the State. Introduction by Michael W. Apple. Afterword by Pedro Demo (New York and London: Teachers College Press-Columbia University), 41–42.

(21.) R. Ken, & A. Lou (2015). Creative Schools. The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education (New York: Viking), 20.

(22.) UNESCO (2014). Roadmap for Implementing the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development. Paris,

(23.) UNESCO, Concept Note UNESCO Forum on Global Citizenship Education: Preparing learners for the challenge of the 21st Century, December 2–4, 2013, Bangkok, Thailand.

(24.) Rhoads and Szelényi, Op. Cit., 2011, p. 22.

(25.) S. Benhabib (2005). Borders, Boundaries, and Citizenship. Political Science and Politics, 38(4), 673–677. Accessed 30/11/2011 17:36,%20Boundaries,%20and%20Citizenship.pdf.

(26.) S. Sassen (2002). The Repositioning of Citizenship: Emergent Subjects and Spaces for Politics, Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 46, 4–25. See page 6.

(27.) J. Habermas (2004). Why Europe Needs a Constitution, in E. O. Eriksen, J. E. Fossum, & A. J. Menéndez (Eds.), Developing a Constitution for Europe (London: Routledge).

(28.) C.A. Torres (1998). Democracy, Education, and Multiculturalism: Dilemmas of Citizenship in a Global World (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield); C. A. Torres (2009a). Globalizations and Education: Collected Essays on Class, Race, Gender, and the State. Introduction by Michael W. Apple. Afterword by Pedro Demo (New York and London: Teachers College Press-Columbia University); and C. A. Torres (2009b). Education and Neoliberal Globalization. Introduction by Pedro Noguera (New York and London: Routledge).

(29.) Ministers and heads of delegation attending the UN Climate Change Conference 2014—COP20—(1–12 December 2014, Lima, Peru) have adopted The Lima Ministerial Declaration on Education and Awareness-raising. This declaration calls on governments to include climate change into school curricula and climate awareness into national development and climate change plans.

(30.) S. Benhabib (2005). Borders, boundaries, and citizenship. Political Science and Politics, 38(4), 673–677. Accessed: 30/11/2011 17:36,,%20Boundaries,%20and%20Citizenship.pdf. See also Garret W. Brown’s rendition of this discussion on universal or cosmopolitan laws of hospitality in a response to Jacques Derrida’s reading of Kant about the cosmopolitan rights to visit contrasted to the universal right to reside.

(31.) See Rhoads and Torres, Op. Cit.

(32.) See Rhoads & Szelényi, 2011, Op. Cit., p. 160.

(33.) See Rhoads & Szelényi, 2011, Op. Cit., p. 17.

(34.) Y. Soysal (1994). Limits of Citizenship: Migrants and Postnational Membership in Europe (Chicago: Chicago University Press), p. 7.

(35.) S. Sassen (2002). The repositioning of citizenship: Emergent subjects and spaces for politics, Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 46, 4–25. See p. 4.

(36.) S. Song (2012). The boundary problem in democratic theory: why the demos should be bounded by the state, International Theory, 4(1), 39–68. Quote in p. 44, and Cambridge University Press.

(37.) J. Habermas (1992). Citizenship and national identity: Some reflections on the future of Europe, Praxis International, 12, 7.

(38.) These arguments have been developed in more detail in Torres, 1998.

(39.) J. Rawls (1971). A theory of justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 233.

(40.) D. L. d’Avray (2010). Rationalities in history. A Weberian essay in comparison (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press), 30.

(41.) M. Velasquez, A. Claire, S. J. Thomas Shanks, & M. J. Meyer, The common good,

(42.) Republican culture is the expression of universal rationality and of ethical values rooted in human rights. Hence, it follows that the school is aimed at allowing individuals to access this rationality and these universal values, liberating them from the ties of belonging to groups (Tarozzi and Torres, Op. Cit, p. 64, in press).

(43.) S. Sassen (1999). Globalization and its discontents: Essays on the new mobility of people and money (New York: The New Press).

(44.) T. H. Marshall (1950). Citizenship and social class and other essays (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press).

(45.) Cited in Torres (1998), Op. Cit., p. 111.

(46.) See Torres (1998), Op. Cit., p. 258.

(47.) Sassen (2002), Op. Cit., p. 22.

(49.) T. Gitllin (1995). The twilight of common dreams: Why America is wracked by culture wars (New York: Henry Holt).

(51.) Cited in Carlos Alberto Torres (1998). Democracy, Education, and Multiculturalism. Dilemmas of Citizenship in a Global World (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield), 95–96.

(52.) C. R. S. Milani, & R. N. Laniado (2006). Transnational social movements and the globalization agenda: A methodological approach based on the analysis of the World Social Forum. Working Paper 5, December 2006. The Edelstein Center for Social Research. Accessed December 15, 2010, from

(53.) Torres (1998), Op. Cit., p. 219.