The Universal to the Material: Social Citizenship, a Politics of Becoming and New Deal Labor Organizing in Chicago Meatpacking
Benjamin, Peter Y.
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The body of literature surrounding the concept of social citizenship developed in the mid-20th century in order to address social inequality in Western democracies. The concept drew on human rights literature to argue that states should indeed provide a modicum of social and economic security to their citizens. Social citizenship literature has been the basis of many studies on the institutionalization of the welfare state, and some scholars have suggested that such social policies have in large part discriminated against some on the basis of race, class, gender and other social characteristics. How might we understand citizenship while recognizing the social inequality present within political and social institutions? A transformative model of citizenship must recognize that the formation of the citizen-subject is a social process. The citizen-subject is a reflection of the actions of the state and the rest of society. Although inequality is experienced by many citizens within political and social institutions, I argue that we can still identify those points at which citizenship is performed by citizen-subjects who articulate new forms of ‘being’ within their everyday lives. I further show how citizens engaged within social movements and group organizations participate in a process of becoming that reflects social citizenship. In particular, I showcase how changes in group formations develop through a politics of becoming organized in the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC) of Chicago from the years 1918-1940. By participating in a politics of becoming, groups of citizens put forth new articulations of being that have an effect on our material world through group performances of social citizenship.