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Keywords:

  • citizenship;
  • culture;
  • discourse;
  • diversity;
  • multiculturalism;
  • national identity;
  • prejudice;
  • racism;
  • rhetorical psychology;
  • social identity

Abstract

In this paper, we argue for a social psychological approach to citizenship which focuses on how social actors define competent and legitimate polity membership, together with the associated rights and responsibilities that this entails. A perspective based on the principles of rhetorical psychology is adopted in order to explore these issues in an analysis of a sample of young people's talk about issues of immigration to the UK. Analysis considers how matters of ‘race’, national identity and culture were oriented to and constructed during the interviews. We then explore how rights and responsibilities concerning cultural expression, interpersonal civility/courtesy and (implicitly acultural) legal frameworks were articulated as practical criteria for judgements about competent and legitimate polity membership. These findings are discussed in relation to existing social psychological work on issues such as racism and national identity, with a view to situating these matters within an overarching concern for the construction of polity membership. We conclude by briefly considering the implications of these findings for contemporary debates concerning citizenship education in the UK. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.