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How can we be better global citizens?




Businessmen and women walking over a modern city bridgeAs part of our series of posts exploring a “question-centered” teaching approach, we asked Richard Bellamy, author of Citizenship: A Very Short Introduction, to give us his thoughts on the above question, featured in the new course Q Skills for Success.

Like most people, I was shocked by the recent earthquake in Haiti and gave to the charities providing emergency relief for the victims.

Does that make me a better global citizen than those who also had the money yet failed to donate anything? Many people think so but I disagree.

These are acts of charity. They reflect our common humanity. Such actions make the world a better place. But we perform them in a personal capacity – as one individual to another.

What about buying fair trade goods, lobbying the G7, or calling for more development aid? These are acts of citizenship. They seek political action to make the rules governing global trade more just.

Yet we perform them not as global citizens but as citizens of different states who wish our governments to act with greater global responsibility.

A global citizen would have to belong to a global state. That is neither necessary nor desirable. Smaller political units allow for greater diversity and give citizens a greater say over how they are governed.

We can do more to promote global justice, but we do so by better fulfilling our global obligations at home rather than abroad – be it personally, locally or nationally.

Find out how you can use questions like “How can we be better global citizens?” in class.


Richard Bellamy is a Professor of Political Science and Director of the European Institute at University College London (UCL), UK, and is the author of Citizenship: A Very Short Introduction (OUP).

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