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The idea of citizenship dates back to classical antiquity. It was originally concerned to address legitimacy of occupancy in the public sphere. Our empirical study contributes to the project of developing a social psychology of the citizen by focusing on the dynamics of such membership, specifically rights and identities. The authors briefly describe a number of existing psychological models of the citizen. Drawing on the main theoretical principles of discursive psychology, rather than asking, 'who is the citizen?' in terms of mental states, we suggest a shift in focus to the more social question, 'how do people claim citizenship and to what ends?'. We present an analysis of private letters of complaint that formed part of a larger mixed data set used in a recent research programme centred on disputes over Britain's newer travellers' rights of settlement. Specifically our analysis demonstrates how some of the letter writers generate a basis for claims-making by making relevant a citizenship/ governance alignment of identities. We also demonstrate how the entitlements associated with the category citizen are built up and action-oriented rather than flowing from the (unproblematic) assumption of citizenship. Finally we discuss how citizenship can be used for the purposes of inclusion and exclusion.

Original publication




Conference paper

Publication Date





187 - 206