New legal theories and philosophical frameworks regarding the internal rights of all humans and the expression of “internal” citizenship are coinciding with the recent art world developments, functions and evaluations of socially engaged art strategies, social practice artists and social art projects.


Citizenship implies that humans have entitlements and rights in their country of origin, or in a State where they become naturalized, in exchange for loyalty, responsibilities and obligations. It is an exchange that States give to towards people within their border, “We grant you citizenship and you submit to the laws of the country.” They are tacit agreements of external dimensions, a trade off of protection for expectant behavior. This is the “social contract” a philosophical model that says implicit and tacit contracts, agreements, laws and treaties exist for peoples to live under to create communities.[1] Thinkers from Aristotle and Plato, to the theories of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham and liberal thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire and Immanuel Kant express traditional presumptions of what we call “citizenship”. However modern theorists challenge the social contract model of external exchanges between the state and citizen as mere utilitarian without dealing with basic human rights for all humans. Justice as fairness theories of John Rawls and the Capabilities Approaches of Amartya Sen move towards an ideal contending that States and their laws must provide fair choices for all humans, of various capabilities, to interact in the public and private sphere. Dr. Martha C. Nussbaum advances this challenge by saying human fulfillment (citizenship) is something that is felt “internally” as much as it is externally through political and social exchange. Human dignity, the notion of a political life in contact with all individuals, not just “normal” ones, to live life with aspirations and with “a rich plurality of life’s activities”[2] offers another definition of citizenship. Nussbaum sources Aristotle’s voluminous record to state how life needs contact with the rest of humanity to discover a sense of “fulfillment” and to “flourish.”[3] She boldly outlines these ideas by listing and delineating a set of ten universal human and civil rights called Central Human Capabilities (CHC).[4]

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The CHC’s expansive interpretation of rights explicitly describes the role of human expression, imagination and interaction to realize citizenship as something both internally and externally experienced.[5] Some of the rights listed on the CHC recognize how certain capabilities appeal to the type of prerogatives which artists generally claim and take for granted. Specifically the capabilities of #4) Senses, Thought and Imagination, #5) Emotions, #7) Affiliation and #9) Play are internal rights that all humans share, yet they appeal to certain universally accepted artistic prerogatives, expertise and special skills. If this is the case then artists can claim they have unique skills at securing a sense of citizenship for themselves as something both externally and internally experienced. In Nussbaum’s capabilities approach, we see how a political scientist has crossed the threshold of re-imaging citizenship and human rights not only by building on the existing philosophical framework of political social contract theory, but also by including internal skill sets normally associated with artists.

At present, as implied by what Clair Bishop calls the “social turn” of new art initiatives, the paradigm shift of artists re-evaluating and challenging the role of artists in society and their place outside the context of a globalized art market has gained greater prominence in the art world. Social practice, socially engaged art (SEA) and the making of inter-personal, social art projects base their process on ideas of reciprocity, cooperation with others, and many times in collaboration with disenfranchised or underrepresented communities. Often presented outside the confines of gallery or institutional walls, dialogic in nature, SEA’s aesthetic experiences produce forms that allow for more interactive exchanges and actions with viewers, participants and collaborators over issues of societal problems which in turn become the artwork. This becomes a “combined”, “internal” and “external” exchange where theoretically all participants have equal voice and authorship. Socially engaged art projects such as the Thomas Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument in the South Bronx, George Gittoe’s and Helen Rose-Schauersberger’s the Yellow House of Jalalabad and the collaborative Los Angeles Poverty Department have produced artistic and political platforms to re-imagine strategies to address problems in communities, the public commons and concepts pertaining to justice and human fulfillment. By thinking “outside of the box” of traditional citizenship and employing the types of prerogatives or capabilities such as senses, thought, imagination, emotions, unexpected affiliations plus a sense of play, SEAs may be providing opportunities for realizing human fulfillment in similar ways theorized in the “capabilities approaches” of internally realized citizenship that Nussbaum outlined.

If SEA interactions breed a sense of “inclusive collectivity”, democratic values and compassion for others outside one’s own immediate circle of community, is it then possible that the most effective social art projects provide participants with a sense of agency over social problems or situations, and promote notions to becoming shareholders in society and self governance (a sense of internal citizenship)? Can imaginative and artistic production methodologies offer an opportunity for people to find a sense of internal agency for themselves that can speak to power and adopt power while “flourishing” as a citizen? Is it possible that some social engaged art, offer new and creative ways for people in the public to be playful, emote freely without coercion, associate with other unlike themselves and allow individuals to express notions of human fulfillment (citizenship)? Can a connection be made how emerging theories about universal human and civil rights serve as a guide for the effectiveness of SEAs?


Proposed is the coalescence of new approaches, theories, norms and constitutional laws regarding to the internal rights of all humans with the recent art world developments that turn towards socially engaged art practices, artists and projects. If internal rights are entitlements that all humans share, then the traditional artist prerogatives used in the creative process are also shared by non-artists, artists and the general-public alike. If social engaged artists are willing to accept a Central Human Capabilities philosophical framework then perhaps it can assist participants, collaborators and viewers to re-imagine “fulfilled” citizenship. Creative and imaginative strategies with the production of new social art projects in the public realm offer societies a value for justice as fairness and promote human dignity with a basic level of human external and internal entitlements. If embraced by social practice artists, Central Human Capabilities can also serve as an ethical framework that figure in the functions, practice and evaluation of the various socially art practices and projects. Instead of a vague and presumptuous standard that insists socially engaged art must “create justice”, perhaps the social practice artist should ask, “Can this art project or aesthetic experience offer a brief chance for human fulfillment?” or, “Will this art project plant a seed that grows and leads to a greater sense of internal and external agency for the viewer, participant, and non-artist collaborators?” or more humbly, “Does this art promote human dignity?”

[1] “Social Contract Theory,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

[2] Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership. Nussbaum dedicated her book In Memory of John Rawls.

[3] Nussbaum, “Constitutions and Capabilities: ‘Perception’ Against Lofty Formalism.”

[4] Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership.

[5] Martha C. Nussbaum, “Capabilities and Human Rights.”, 66 Fordham L. Rev. 273 (1997)


There is an emerging literature surrounding socially engaged art practices. Contributors are critical theorists, art historians, curators and institutional leaders, as well as artists. Nussbaum’s ideas, the coalescence with the trends towards social art practice, plus the evolving norms about national, global and internal citizenship should be included in conversations throughout the art world. Equally, artists and artist initiated projects can embrace emerging political theory and norms in ways that it have not considered nor had opportunities for greater social dialog.



1. LIFE. Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying prematurely, or before one's life is so reduced as to be not worth living.

2. BODILY HEALTH. Being able to have good health, including reproductive health; to be adequately nourished; to have adequate shelter.

3. BODILY INTEGRITY. Being able to move freely from place to place; to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault and domestic violence; having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.

4. SENSES, IMAGINATION, AND THOUGHT. Being able to use the senses; being able to imagine, to think, and to reason-and to do these things in a "truly human" way, a way informed and cultivated by an adequate education, including, but by no means limited to, literacy and basic mathematical and scientific training. Being able to use imagination and thought in connection with experiencing and producing expressive works and events of one's own choice, religious, literary, musical, and so forth. Being able to use one's mind in ways protected by guarantees of freedom of expression with respect to both political and artistic speech and freedom of religious exercise. Being able to have pleasurable experiences and to avoid non-beneficial pain.

5. EMOTIONS. Being able to have attachments to things and people outside ourselves; to love those who love and care for us, to grieve at their absence; in general, to love, to grieve, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger. Not having one's emotional

development blighted by fear and anxiety. Supporting this capability means supporting forms of human association that can be shown to be crucial in their development.

6. PRACTICAL REASON. Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one's life. This entails protection for the liberty of conscience and religious observance.

7. AFFILIATION: A. FRIENDSHIP. Being able to live for and to others, to recognize and show concern for other human beings, to engage in various forms of social interaction; to be able to imagine the situation of another and to have compassion for that situation; to have the capability for both justice and friendship. Protecting this capability means, once again, protecting institutions that constitute such forms of affiliation, and also protecting the freedoms of assembly and political speech.

B. RESPECT. Having the social bases of self-respect and non-humiliation; being able to be treated as a dignified being whose worth is equal to that of others. This entails provisions of non-discrimination on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity, caste, religion, and national origin.

8. OTHER SPECIES. Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature.

9. PLAY. Being able to laugh, to play, and to enjoy recreational activities.

10. CONTROL OVER ONE'S ENVIRONMENT: A. POLITICAL. Being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one's life; having the right of political participation, protections of free speech and association.

B. MATERIAL. Being able to hold property (both land and movable goods); having the right to employment; having freedom from unwarranted search and seizure.[1]


[1] Ibid., 287.