Young people talk about citizenship: empirical perspectives on theoretical and political debates

The citizenship literature includes remarkably few empirical studies. In this article we report on how young people in a British city perceive citizenship and their own transitions as citizens. Of five models which emerged, the most dominant was ‘universal status’, followed by ‘respectable economic independence’, ‘constructive social participation’ and, less frequently, ‘social-contractual’ and ‘right to a voice’. The extent to which the young people identified themselves as citizens reflected these models and their own life experiences. They drew clear distinctions between what it means to be a ‘good’ and a ‘first class’ citizen and had greater difficulty articulating their rights than their responsibilities. Overall, their responses drew on fluid understandings of citizenship but pointed more towards communitarian than liberal or civic-republican citizenship paradigms. They also underlined how everyday understandings of citizenship can have both inclusionary and exclusionary implications.