We're increasingly citizens of everywhere

Signal of change / We're increasingly citizens of everywhere

By Callum Watts / 28 Jun 2016

Most of the world’s citizens see themselves as just that, world citizens. Globescan has been conducting global opinion polling since the late eighties, and for the first time ever it has found that most people surveyed identified themselves as members of a global community rather than a national one.

The research, commissioned by the BBC and published at the end of April, interviewed 20,000 individuals across 18 countries. And 51% of respondents agreed with the statement “I see myself as more of a global citizen than a citizen of my country”. This sea change though has not been uniform.

There was a marked difference between the global south and the global north. The strengthening in cosmopolitanism came from developing countries including Nigeria (73%, up 13 points), China (71%, up 14 points), Peru (70%, up 27 points), and India (67%, up 13 points). In contrast, over the past 15 years, the wealthy OECD countries actually saw a decrease from 45 to 42% in the willingness of their citizens to identify with a global community.

So what?

This remarkable shift in global opinion seems to provide further fodder to the narrative that we are seeing the end of a global order of isolate sovereign states and their citizens. If we think of the defining ideologies of the 19th and 20th century, nationalism in various guises has been one of the most influential.

However trends within globalization such as international flows of information, capital, and people have meant that individuals within different countries have felt increasingly connected. Furthermore the formation of international organizations, businesses, and NGOs have meant that people increasingly see their own identity in terms of non-nationalistic communities as they travel more, speak more languages, and meet more people. These developments are potentially extremely promising, especially if they serve to further reinforce the trends mentioned above.

The picture is not necessarily all rosy though. It may be a sign of the rejection of national citizenship in favour of other types of equally closed identities, and not as a positive affirmation of a universal human community. This point is made clear by one of the subsequent survey questions. When asked to chose between global, national, religious, ethnic and a range of other identities, rather than only between national or global, far fewer individuals identified as being global citizens. This might mean a rejection of national identification, but not in favour of a global sense of community, but rather because of a strengthening of private transnational interest or identity groups which may not, in fact, be benign.

Furthermore the fact that this change in mind-set is more pronounced in emerging economies means that the citizens of some of the most powerful countries are unsympathetic. This connects deeply to the perception that cosmopolitanism is a bad thing. This can be seen in the alarming rise of nationalism in the US and the EU, in response to economic insecurity and perceived problems with immigration. Either way, this move away from nationalism could lead to important changes in global governance as the century progresses.

Image credit: Alessandro Pautasso


Oxfamblogs (May 19th, 2016) Do people identify as global or national citizens? New report suggests a tipping point, but North and South heading in opposite directions

BBC World Service (April 27th, 2016) Global citizenship is a growing sentiment among citizens of emerging economies

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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