T. H. Marshall Research Paper

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As one the most important British proponents of social and political theory in the twentieth century, T. H. Marshall’s work has significantly shaped the literature on citizenship. The never fading relevance of T. H. Marshall’s work is evident in the vast literature on citizenship, written in the last two decades of the century, either in response to Marshall’s own writings or as a critique of his work. With each re-imagination of citizenship, we are left with no choice but return to Marshall’s original formulations.

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This recount of T. H. Marshall’s accomplishments moves from a brief acknowledgment of him as an academic and citizen to his sociology of citizenship and its students and critics, and ends with a commentary on citizenship today and Marshall’s influence on its theory.

1. T. H. Marshall as an Academic and Citizen

Born in Victorian London on December 19, 1893, T. H. Marshall was the son of a successful architect, his youth spent in affluent Bloomsbury and various country retreats. If not disrupted by an imprisonment in a German civilian internment camp during the First World War, he would have followed the familiar path of English upper-middle class career-pattern—from boarding school to Oxbridge, with a likely career in the Foreign Service (Halsey 1984). Instead, equipped with a stronger ‘social awareness and commitment,’ Marshall opted out for sociology at the London School of Economics (LSE), where he had a distinctive career and provided a ‘distinguished role model for aspirant sociologists’ (Halsey 1996, Smith 1996). Marshall taught comparative social institutions at the LSE, with a firm interest in sociological explanations of social change and sociology’s potential in creating that social change (Lockwood 1974). It is this commitment to social issues and change, both as an academic and as a public intellectual, David Lockwood argued, made Marshall’s work a par with those classical texts that paved the way for modern sociology. This commitment is evident in Marshall’s combination of academic life with public service. He worked in the Foreign Office Research Department during the Second World War; served as educational adviser to the British High Commissioner in Germany from 1949 to 1950; and took the Directorship of Social Sciences in UNESCO, when he retired from the LSE in 1956. Marshall shared his life with Nadine Hambourg, whom he married in 1934, in homes in London, Cambridge, and the Lakes. Until his death on November 30, 1982 at the age of 88, he remained active in sociological thinking and writing.

To accentuate Marshall’s lifelong identification with sociology is no overstatement. Contemplating on his four years of imprisonment in Germany in an autobiographical piece, he recalls that in most of his letters to home he wrote evidence of ‘a growing sociological curiosity about what was happening’ to him and around. Marshall goes on to say that ‘if only [he] had been a sociologist then, what an opportunity this would have given [him] to study, by participant observation and any other survey method, the emergence of a structured society from a miscellaneous individuals by chance in a confined space, and its subsequent fortunes’ (Marshall 1973, p. 89). It is as if the sociologist in him made intelligible, and bearable, ‘the world around’ him and ‘the remarkable social experiment’ he had endured for four years. Marshall left the prison ‘deeply affected’ by the experience and with a strong resolve to start an academic career.

As a sociologist, Marshall contributed significantly to the study of social stratification and social policy. His seminal piece on citizenship, Citizenship and Social Class, established the many themes that have occupied our scholarly and intellectual agendas since then and for years to come, never diminishing in their import and urgency (the essay was first given as a lecture in 1949 at the University of Cambridge and then published in 1950). His collected essays Sociology at the Crossroads (first published in 1963; the American edition with a foreword by S. M. Lipset appeared under the title Class, Citizenship and Social Development in 1964) and his text Social Policy (1965) are still required readings in many countries and many languages. In the 1990s, Marshall’s ideas have come to the fore, not only in the excess academic literature on citizenship, but also in politics as A. H. Halsey (1996) asserts, with the transformation of the social democratic welfare state away from its ‘socialistic’ strands to a position of ‘welfare-capitalism.’

His was half-a-century of remarkable achievement in writing on and advocating for just citizenship and policy (Smith 1996). In this lies his resonance in the advent of an age anticipating tumultuous shifts in the order of citizenship as we know it.

2. Marshall’s Sociology of Citizenship

Marshall’s was an evolutionary sociology, grounded in economic history. Citizenship and Social Class combines elemental aspects of both of these disciplines very effectively. His interest in equalities and inequalities, and thus, citizenship was shaped through his study of post-feudal England as a Ph.D. student in Cambridge, as well as his day-to-day experiences with ‘class’ during his internment in Germany and during his brief encounter with politics as a Labor candidate in 1922.

Marshall’s work on citizenship is an attempt to ‘grand sociology.’ It attempts to trace a ‘developmental process’—the process of the development of citizenship rights. Marshall did this based on the reading of the British case, but nevertheless with the aim of chartering a more general map for the progressive development of rights. Each citizenship right built upon each other and labored the next one. The development of civil, political, and social rights not only corresponded to the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries in a sequential order, but also each one was the necessary condition for the other. Of this account of advancement of citizenship, Anthony Rees writes: ‘… [In the 1950s] Marshall almost singlehandedly revived the notion of citizenship, and disseminated a particular view of it so successfully that it came to be seen (at least in England) as the only possible account’ (1996, p. 3).

Marshall’s interest in explaining citizenship rights has a purpose. It stems from his conceptual and political concerns for class and class inequalities. Marshall concedes that citizenship rights, in their earlier stages, were necessary for the flourishing and maintenance of capitalism, a system of inequality in itself. The civil rights of individuals, particularly the right ‘to own property and to conclude valid contracts,’ were the necessary foundations for a market economy. But it is the inequalities generated by the capitalist market that the subsequent citizenship rights were contrived to alleviate. Here enters social rights as corrective and as a unifying force.

For Marshall, social rights constitute the ‘inevitable capstone’ of citizenship development. Substantive social entitlements and rights guaranteed by the welfare state should prevent social and economic exclusions that the earlier provisions of civil and political rights could not. This redefinition of citizenship, from a minimum of legal and political rights to a substantive body of social entitlements, is what made Marshall’s lasting intellectual contribution (Somers 1993, Rees 1996).

It is this conception of modern citizenship that has been a major inspiration and challenge to those whose intellectual concerns lie in democracy, equality, and social conflict. On both sides of the Atlantic, the difficult relationship between citizenship and social class dominated the scholarly agendas of the 1950s and 1960s (Reinhard Bendix, Ralf Dahrendorf, A. H. Halsey, S. M. Lipset, David Lockwood and Peter Townsend). The question that underlies this early literature, whether the equalizing principles of citizenship can, and do, eliminate the inequalities of social class and incorporate the excluded into the national collectivity as equal members, still occupies a prime place in the sociological imagination, if only asked differently to include other excluded bodies of citizens (women, and diverse contingents of cultural, sexual, racial, and ethnic minorities).

Marshall saw modern citizenship as a product of a larger societal transformation through which ‘[d]ifferential status, associated with class, function and family was replaced by the single uniform status of citizenship, which provided the foundation of equality on which the structure of inequality could be built’ (1964, pp. 87–8). It is this tension between the expected transforming capacity of citizenship and the continuing inequalities of the modern society that makes Marshall’s work still relevant.

3. Marshall and Citizenship Today

The concept of citizenship has lived another major intellectual and political renaissance in the aftermath of the political upheavals of the 1990s, mainly in response to the rebirth of new nation-states and the restructuring of the relationship between states and their citizens. These developments have laid bare the differentials in membership and right-bearing, and exposed the limits of citizenship. The theoretical repository set by Marshall’s oeu re has been the point of departure for the new burgeoning interest in citizenship. At the current state of citizenship scholarship, it is unavailing to expect a publication that does not have a reference to Marshall’s Citizenship and Social Class. Whether critically appraised or endorsed, what is striking is how much the recent conceptualizations of citizenship still owe to that of Marshall’s. Three main lines of criticism warrant consideration if only to reveal the influence of Marshall’s work on the current undertakings on citizenship. Not so surprisingly, the most scrutinized aspect of Marshall’s sociology of citizenship is its evolutionary character. Marshall’s periodization of the rise of citizenship has come under attack for not allowing for alternative paths of progression. Moving from different analytical concerns and focusing on different empirical cases, recent research in historical sociology provides comparative contrast to Marshall’s sequence (Turner 1986, Mann 1987, Barbalet 1988, Somers 1993). In this body of scholarship, attention to the existing political regimes, the strategies of the ruling elites and the ruled classes, and the varying institutional arrangements and patterns of associational and participatory forms, at both local and national levels, sanctions the redefinition of parameters and trajectory of citizenship. The path to citizenship, as it is evinced by these critical inquiries, is nowhere single and predetermined. Particularly revealing is the movement and importance that social rights displayed in the citizenship schemes of other countries. Bismarckian social reforms, for example, were introduced as substitute for full political citizenship (Mann 1987). In Germany, not only the social rights preceded political rights, but also the imperative relationship between the two sets of rights that Marshall postulated based on the British case was not there.

Even the British case may not fit neatly with Marshall’s periodization, it is argued. The empirical re-analysis of the English citizenship practices in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reveals that the emergence of national labor markets and development of civil rights happened in the company of extensive ‘claims to and practices of political and social citizenship.’ These claims and practices were then, under the right conditions, transformed into explicit rights for English working class communities (Somers 1993). Said otherwise, political and social citizienship materialized in varying intensity but significantly before the time frame predicted by Marshall’s scheme. Here a second line of criticism to Marshall surfaces, the lack of agency and struggle in Marshall’s explanatory framework. His comes from the dynamic tension between citizenship and social class in the framework of capitalist market development. Marshall’s stages of citizenship progress with the formative demands of each emerging social class, but this class agency remains implicit in the main (Somers 1993). In much of the scholarship that follows Marshall’s steps class agency, or agency as such, does not get a proper treatment either. In this literature, citizenship is conceptualized as a personal status or legal category, which guarantees equal rights and exact obligations for individuals in national polities. Inasmuch as the scholarship on citizenship moves away from this legalistic formalistic take on rights and membership, they reveal a much more dynamic understanding of the citizenship development. The active agency is then reconstituted in the analysis of the evolution and elaboration of citizenship as a complex set of rights, statuses, and practices.

An approach which privileges the agency and participatory practices, for instance, effectively unearths women’s place in the realm of citizenship, a social group that does not have visibility in the Marshallian framework. In the USA, despite being denied the franchise, women groups were able to mobilize successfully for mothers’ pensions and other legislation in the Progressive era (Skocpol 1992). This finding not only reverses Marshall’s sequential analysis, but also remedies the accounts of citizenship which omit the formative role of women and their movements in the historic progress of citizenship.

Rights formation is not only a result of contradictions between the egalitarian principles of citizenship and capitalist society, as Marshall’s account articulates (Barbalet 1988). Citizenship is actively created by the participation of people in interaction with formal institutions and power structures (Turner 1986, 1990, Giddens 1982). With this revision, that is, the expansion of the Marshallian model to include ‘citizenship from below,’ the citizen enters the public space as an actor, ‘an active bearer of claims,’ and partakes in popular struggles to acquire rights. The resulting model thus resolutely incorporates the agency and mobilization of societal groups into the developmental framework cultivated by Marshall and his exponents.

The third line of criticism takes Marshall’s framework to test at the end of the millenium. Marshall wrote his account of citizenship when the national character of the state and welfare regimes was taken for granted. Even though Marshall was not so much attentive to the formation of the ‘national’ content of citizenship, nevertheless, he was aware that ‘the citizenship whose history [he wished to trace was], by definition, national’ (1964, p.72). The extension of socioeconomic rights to the previously excluded groups of people, such as the working class, facilitates their incorporation into the ‘common culture’ of the national collective. Marshall does not elaborate on this collective, neither does he take it to task to define what holds this collective together and what defines the boundaries of this collective.

A necessary corrective to the study of citizenship, brought to the fore more recently, has been to redefine citizenship from simply a legal status to a body of membership forms and practices (Brubaker 1992, Kymlicka 1995). This shift in focus has brought with it a heightened and productive debate, with attention to historical and contemporary processes of boundary making, and the sources of inclusion and exclusion. As revealed by this debate, citizenship, which has evolved to encompass ‘national’ collectivities, variously following distinct paths and forming peculiar traditions, is no longer singularly located within national boundaries. Neither the distribution of membership rights requires ‘national’ belonging as a necessary condition of access to rights. Nor the citizenship practices are delimited by the boundaries of the nation-state within which the citizens reside. This fin de siecle reconstitution of citizenship implies a multiplicity of membership. In the new terrain of citizenship, different categories of members are accorded with differentiated set of rights—thus breaching the principle of uniform citizenship rights and accentuating disparities between members. Also in the new citizenship, claims to rights and citizenship expand beyond the conventional modalities of political, civil, and social to embrace cultural, sexual, ecological, and global citizenships. The claims are increasingly advanced and legitimated by appeals to group differences and universal human rights, as codified in international treaties and conventions. The collectives and individuals target with their claims not only the nation-states but more and more transnational (such as the European Union) and local institutions and governing bodies.

All these developments project a significantly different topography of citizenship than the one analyzed and conceptualized by Marshall. As citizenship expands and differentiates within and without the nation-state, one may be impatient to register the infirmities and imperfections of Marshall’s account. One may promptly find him guilty of not providing all the right answers. However, in the end, an eventual return to Marshall is only inevitable and fitting. His grand narrative of citizenship paves the way for lucid analyses of the new terrains of citizenship that confront us. Through conversations and argumentation with Marshall, the formations of new citizenship become manifestly tangible and substantive. Ultimately it is his preoccupation as a scholar and citizen that motivates our continuing interest in citizenship—that inequalities, independent of their sources and forms, are still part of our scholarly and societal agendas, and still take us, the sociologists, to task.


  1. Barbalet J M 1988 Citizenship: Rights, Struggle, and Class Inequality. Open University Press, Milton Keynes, UK
  2. Brubaker R 1992 Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
  3. Giddens A 1982 Class division, class conflict and citizenship rights. In: Giddens A (ed.) Profiles and Critiques in Social Theory. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA
  4. Halsey A H 1996 T H. Marshall and ethical socialism. In: Bulmer M, Rees A M (eds.) Citizenship Today: The Contemporary Rele ance of T. H. Marshall. UCL Press, London
  5. Halsey A H 1984 Marshall T. H: Past and present, 1893–1981—President of the British Sociological Association 1964–1969. Sociology 18(1): 1–18
  6. Kymlicka W 1995 Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK
  7. Lockwood D 1974 For T. H. Marshall. Sociology 8(3): 363–7
  8. Mann M 1987 Ruling class strategies and citizenship. Sociology 21: 339–54
  9. Marshall T H 1950 Citizenship and Social Class and Other Essays. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
  10. Marshall T H 1963 Sociology at the Crossroads and Other Essays. Heinemann, London
  11. Marshall T H 1964 Class, Citizenship and Social Development: Essays. Doubleday, Garden City, New York [with an introduction by S. M. Lipset]
  12. Marshall T H 1965 Social Policy. Hutchinson, London [3rd rev. edn. 1970]
  13. Marshall T H 1973 A British sociological career. International Social Science Journal 25(1 2): 88–100
  14. Rees A 1996 T. H. Marshall and the progress of citizenship. In: Bulmer M, Rees A M (eds.) Citizenship Today: The Contemporary Rele ance of T. H. Marshall. UCL Press, London
  15. Skocpol T 1992 Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
  16. Smith J H 1996 Forward. In: Bulmer M, Rees A M (eds.) Citizenship Today: The Contemporary Rele ance of T. H. Marshall. UCL Press, London
  17. Somers M 1993 Citizenship and the place of the public sphere: Law, community, and political culture in the transition to democracy. American Sociological Re iew 58: 587–620
  18. Turner B S 1986 Citizenship and Capitalism: The Debate over Reformism. Allen & Unwin, London
  19. Turner B S 1990 Outline of a theory of citizenship. Sociology 24(2): 189–217
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