Intimate Citizenship: Private Decisions and Public Dialogues – PLUMMER (CSS)

PLUMMER, Ken. Intimate Citizenship: Private Decisions and Public Dialogues. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2003. 187p. Resenha de: HORTON, Todd. Canadian Social Studies, v.41, n.1, p., 2008.

Ken Plummer, a distinguished scholar of social interaction and human sexuality, has written a fine synoptical book (p. xi) that examines the realm of intimacy and the conflicts the intimate problems to which these changes constantly give rise (p. back cover). Citing turn of the millennium issues such as solo parenting, invitro ferlization, surrogate mothers, gay and lesbian families, cloning and the prospect of designer babies, Viagra and the morning-after pill, HIV/AIDS, the global porn industry, on-line dating services and virtual sex, Plummer argues that dramatic changes in our intimate lives have increasingly bound private decisions to public dialogues in law, medicine and the media. He further asserts this requires a notion of intimate citizenship (p. 50), a sensitizing, open and suggestive concept to be used in the provisional quest of exploring the nature of social change and intimacies (p. 15).

This book is a valuable addition to the growing list of books engaged in unpacking somewhat stodgy concepts like citizenship and identity and repackaging them in new, exciting and dynamic ways. While admittedly brief, Intimate Citizenship does offer a good quality synopsis of current perspectives and expertly crafts a paradigm for analysis that is sure to stimulate conversation about where to go next. Almost certainly written for students in post-secondary education and scholars in the fields of sociology, political theory and cultural studies, the book is readerly enough to be used in secondary school, albeit in excerpt form, to initiate discussion and extend perspectives.

The book is divided into nine chapters, written as an interconnected whole that builds an argument. This is followed by reference notes and an extensive bibliography. It should be stated that at the beginning of each chapter several quotes, often as many as five or six, from authors to activists, are used to foreshadow the discussion(s) to follow. While some may find the quotes distracting and perhaps a bit bombastic, they provide an indication of the perspectives that permeate the discourses within and across the vibrant field of citizenship.

Chapter One, Intimate Troubles, is an appropriate title as Plummer lays out a series of issues and choices facing people at the dawn of the 21st century. He frames the discussion around the question how do we live and how should we live our lives in an emerging late modern world? (p. 7) and offers a conceptualization of the Intimate Citizenship Project (p. 13) that uses zones of intimacies such as self, gender, identity and spirituality to explore: the decisions people have to make over the control (or not) over ones body, feelings, relationships; access (or not) to representations, relationships, public spaces, etc.; and social grounded choices (or not) about identities, gender experiences, erotic experiences (p. 14).

Chapter Two, titled Postmodern Intimacies: New Lives in a Late Modern World, expertly examines intimate troubles in more detail while chapter three, Culture Wars and Contested Intimacies delves into the ways that change brings with it dissent. It is in chapter four that Plummer outlines the core organizing concept of the book.

Entitled The New Theories of Citizenship, Chapter Four is designed to help us navigate our way through the tangled web of conflicts that now surround our personal lives (p. 49) and to a large degree it is successful, though it must be added that brevity does occasionally work against clear sailing toward his new conceptualization. Plummer begins by offering an overview of two concepts: citizenship and identity, which he believes are really about difference and unity. Moving on to new citizenships (p. 51), he focuses on the works of T. H. Marshall, the British sociologist who outlined three clusters of citizenship rights civil, political and social to which all members of a community are entitled. While Plummer does outline many of the criticisms that have been lodged against Marshalls post-WWII work, he rushes through these to get to the main point of the section that the post-structuralist approach is the most fruitful starting point in which to develop newer ideas of citizenship, including intimate citizenship. Indeed, the reader may be left with the feeling that dwelling a little longer with the myriad of authors working in the post-Marshallian field might have made arriving at the destination a little more compelling.

Chapter Four continues by outlining the issue of boundaries and exclusions (p. 53), suggesting that in any framework of citizenship runs the risk of being critiqued as to who is inside and who is outside, who is included and who is excluded, both within and across social worlds (p. 55). A proposed solution is to further develop Ruth Listers idea of a differentiated universalism (p. 55) whereby boundaries are present but shift and sway in addition to becoming more porous. After a brief but worthwhile examination of natural rights, the state, society and inequality, as well as obligations relative to rights, and identity, Plummer pauses to pay homage to the work of authors who have extended citizenship to include feminist and sexual citizenships before adeptly using all of the discussions that have come before to outline a workable, if tentative, account of the issues critical to a new intimate citizenship (pp. 65-66). Among the issues addressed is a key theme that Plummer returns to again and again that citizenship must always be sensitive to the whole panoply of inequalities – of the problem of just citizenship in an unjust society (p. 66).

Four themes provide the details of intimate citizenship in the next four chapters. Chapter Five examines Public Intimacies, Private Citizens and the ways the public sphere is being radically redrawn in the 21st century, while Chapter Six, Dialogic Citizenship, embraces the crucial role of pluralism and conflict along with the need for dialogue across opposing positions. Chapter Seven, Stories and the Grounded Moralities of Everyday Life, is particularly rich, peppered as it is with excerpts of arguments from writers such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Martha Nussbaum, Carol Gilligan, Richard Rorty and Maria Pia Lara who support, in one form or another, Plummers belief in the importance of listening to the voices of citizens as we struggle to resolve ethical dilemmas in our daily lives. Chapter Eight, entitled Globalizing Intimate Citizenship, explores the ways many of these issues now figure on the global stage and within global fora.

The book concludes with Chapter Nines The Intimate Citizenship Project, an attempt to develop a paradigm for analysis. Having spent much of the book cataloguing issues around intimacies, Plummer does an admirable job of pulling the threads of many arguments together to present an eight-point series of concerns for an intimate citizenship (pp. 140-142) as it moves forward. These concerns are focused around questions that 21st century theorists in the area of citizenship must grapple if the field is to grow in a legally, politically and socially just manner.

The author also demonstrates the proper amount of humility when he states that his work tends to raise more questions than it answers (p. 142) and acknowledges that it can be criticized from a number of different directions including the creeping return of the meta-narrative, the need for further detail, a western bias in the conception of rights and a certain nave optimism or utopianism. Still, his closing section situates the intimate citizenship project within the ongoing effort to eliminate inequalities in the world suggesting a reasonableness and sense of proportion for the task at hand and the challenges ahead. As Plummer states: intimacies are lodged in worldwide inequalities of class, gender, age, race and the like. These inequalities structure on a daily basis the debasement and degradation, the patterns of exclusion and marginalization, the sense of powerlessness that, in one way or another, many people experience as the inevitable backdrop of ordinary intimacies. Cutting across my entire book is a persistent need to return to these issues (p. 145).

This positioning is elevated by the final section in the book, Moving On: Learning to Listen, where he entreats the reader to consider familiar words citizenship, identity, community, public sphere, morality and ethics not as tight words, defined, fixed, with established boundaries but as open, polyvocal, flexible, porous and interwoven (p. 145). This means accepting that there are no simple solutions to how to live life and embracing the permanently unsettled state (p. 145) which is our future. For those who can only envision anarchistic chaos, relativist vacuums or tribal wars emanating from his paradigmatic positioning, Plummer concludes on a note of hope, suggesting that we must listen to one anothers stories of how to make our way through the moral tangles of today (p. 145) because it is there that virtue is re/constructed, morality is debated, ethical dilemmas are re/solved and the common values that hold humanity together (p. 146) are re/discovered.

Todd Horton – Nipissing University. North Bay, Ontario.

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