‘Everybody's entitled to their own opinion’: ideological dilemmas of liberal individualism and active citizenship


  • The research reported in this article was conducted as part of the project, ‘Orientations of Young Men and Women to Citizenship and European identity’ (EC: project no. SERD-2000-00). The other partners, researchers and consultants in this investigation were: Lynn Jamieson (coordinator), Sue Grundy and David McCrone, University of Edinburgh, UK; Claire Wallace and Reingard Spannring, Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna, Austria; Klaus Boehnke and Daniel Fuss, International University Bremen and Bernhard Nauck, Technische Universitaet Chemnitz, Germany; Ladislav Macháček; Gabriel Bianchi, Barbara Lášticová and Pavla Macháčková, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia, and Maria Ros and Miryam Rodriguez Monter, Universidad Complutense de Madrid and Hector Grad and Gema Garcia Albacete, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Spain.


Conversational interview accounts were used to explore everyday understandings of political participation on the part of young white adults in England. Analysis focussed on dilemmatic tensions within respondents' accounts between values of active citizenship and norms of liberal individualism. Respondents could represent community membership as engendering rights to political participation, whilst also arguing that identification with local or national community militates against the formulation of genuine personal attitudes and rational political judgement. Respondents could represent political participation as a civic responsibility, whilst also casting political campaigning as an illegitimate attempt to impose personal opinions on to others. Formal citizenship education did not appear to promote norms of political engagement but rather lent substance to the argument that political decision-making should be based on the rational application of technical knowledge rather than on public opinion or moral principle. In conclusion we question whether everyday understandings of responsible citizenship necessarily entail injunctions to political action. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.