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Tower Center Spotlight: How 19th Century Liberalism Informs Ideas of Citizenship Today 

Tower Center Blog

Originally Posted: November 20, 2018

How does a person qualify for citizenship? How do we determine those qualifications? We talked with the SMU Political Science Department’s newest professor, Gianna Englert, about her research and how it applies to questions being asked about citizenship today.


My research is in political theories, specifically history of political thought, which means I look mostly at the past for insights that can inform political questions in the present. Specifically my work is on the 19th century and the history of liberalism in the 19th century. How do liberals deal with the question of political inclusion or citizenship, deciding who’s in, who’s out and why? We sometimes think of a liberal philosophy as something that’s really universal. Human beings are created equal. Stop. But in the real world we have to deal with borders, we have to deal with nations. How does a philosophy that seems to be universal deal with this question of citizens who have to have some kind of standard for being in or out.

My work looks at liberalism in the 19th century in France and England, how they navigate these questions of citizenship; this idea that one had to be capable in order to exercise political rights, and obviously some concerns are being raised again. What kind of immigrants do we want to welcome into our borders? Do they have to have some level of capability? Whether it be education, whether it be the ability to earn an income. Do they have to be parts of families? Does that make them more stable? And these were exactly the kinds of questions that people were initially raising in the 19th century. So my work looks at these arguments and tries to figure out is there something valuable in them, can we learn from them, are they just exclusive, can they actually be more inclusive, can they inform questions about citizenship? READ MORE