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A Journey to Citizenship: Constructions of Citizenship and Identity in the British Citizenship Test

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A Journey to Citizenship: Constructions of Citizenship and Identity in the British Citizenship Test
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   1 Gray, D., & Griffin, C. (2013). A journey to citizenship: Constructions of citizenship and identity in theBritish Citizenship Test. British Journal of Social Psychology. A Journey to Citizenship: Constructions of Citizenship and Identity in the British Citizenship TestABSTRACT The British Citizenship Test was introduced in 2005 as one of a raft of new procedures aimed ataddressing the perceived problems of integration and social cohesion in migrant communities. Inthis paper, we argue that this new citizenship procedure signals a shift in British political discourseabout citizenship - particularly, the institutionalisation of a common British citizen identity that isintended to draw citizens together in a new form of political/national community. In line with this,we examine the British Citizenship Test from a social psychological perspective in order tointerrogate the ways in which the test constitutes identity, constitutes citizenship and constitutescitizenship-as-identity. Analysis of the Test and its associated documents highlights three ways inwhich Britishness-as-identity is constituted, i.e. as a collective identity, as a global and nationalidentity, and finally as both a destination and a journey. These findings are discussed in terms of their implications for models of citizenship and models of identity.   2 INTRODUCTION Citizenship, as one writer suggests, is “on everyone’s minds today” (Joppke, 1999, p. 629) - astatement which is borne out by the considerable focus on citizenship in both political discourse andsocial scientific enquiry. Of particular concern, is the relationship between citizenship andimmigration, with many pointing out that a significant dilemma facing many modern states is theneed for migration to meet labour needs, amid concerns about integration and social cohesion(Joppke, 2007; Yuval-Davis, Anthias & Kofman, 2005). In response, the UK government (under NewLabour) introduced mandatory citizenship tests, in which migrants are required to demonstrate thatthey have “sufficient knowledge of English, Welsh or Scot s Gaelic” and “sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom ” before being granted citizenship (Home Office, 2002) iii . In this paper, weargue that this new citizenship procedure forms part of a broader citizenship agenda aimed atreconceptualising British citizenship as a civic identity, centred on core values emblematic of Britishsociety. As such, we explore the Citizenship Test from a social psychological perspective, with theaim of interrogating the way in which this policy discourse of citizenship-as-identity is instituted bothin, and through, this new citizenship practice. Theorising Citizenship and Identity In recent years, debates about citizenship have become increasingly dominated by discussions of identity; although there is little agreement about how these concepts are (or should be) related. Forsome, identity is central to understanding how people experience their rights and obligations,whether they participate, in what form, and why (Isin & Wood, 1999; Pell, 2008; Werbner & Yuval-Davis, 1999; Taylor, 1994; Turner, 1999). Others, however, argue that citizenship and identity areantinomic attachments, because citizenship is universal, whereas identity is particular (Littleton,1996; Moreley and Robins, 2005). That is, people’s identities and memberships of particular groups (and the assertion of their rights as members of these groups) are seen to be at odds with thepromotion of universal human rights at the level of nation-state.   3C entral to these debates is the recognition that identity (much like citizenship) is an ‘essentiallycontested construct’  (Gallie, 1955; p. 169) - the subject of a fundamental dispute between thosewho wish to identify essential attributes of persons or groups, and those who claim that there are nodurable attributes at all (Howard, 2000). Postmodern theorists have sought to destabilise the idea that there is some ‘authentic’ or essential content to any identity , e.g. as defined by a commonexperience, a common srcin or both (Bruner, 1990; Hall, 1996; Howard, 2000). They posit insteadthat identity is a relational concept, as the boundaries and meanings of identities and socialcategories are constructed and reconstructed through talk and social interaction (Bruner, 1990;Gergen, 1991; 1994; Hall, 1996; Shotter & Gergen, 1989). Importantly, this re-theorisation of identityhas profound consequences for citizenship, as it moves beyond models where individuals areassumed to practice and experience citizenship in the same way. Leading to the development of anti-essentialist concepts such as Diaspora, which represents the identities of those moving betweencultures (Clifford, 1994; Hall, 1995);or hybridity, which has been used to destabilise traditionalbinaries and myths around cultural homogeneity (Bhabba, 1996). These concepts present radicallyreconceptualised notion of citizenship  – one that deals with “the diverse communities to which we belong, the complex interplay of identity and identification in modern society, and the differentiated ways in which people now participate in social life” (Hall and Held, 1989, p.4). In this way, identities have come to be constituted as a problem of (and for) citizenship, by fundamentally challenging ourconceptualisation of what citizenship is (or should be) in a postmodern world (Howard, 2000; Taylor,1989; Mouffe, 1993; 1995; Isin and Wood, 1999). Social Psychological Approaches to Citizenship and Identity Social psychologists have only recently begun to address these questions about the relationshipbetween identity, citizenship and the meaning of belonging (Condor, 2011a; Condor & Gibson, 2007;Barnes, Auburn & Lea, 2004; Haste, 2004). Indeed, psychologists have paid relatively little attentionto citizenship, and where attention has been paid it has focused primarily on the nature and extent   4of citizen behaviours, e.g. by characterising those who participate in politics, or by looking atprocesses of political decision making (e.g. Tyler, Rasinski, & Griffin, 1986). However, while littleattention has been paid to citizenship, social psychologists have contributed much to anti-essentialist theorisations of the self. In particular, many social psychologists have sought to relocateidentity from the private realm of cognition to the public realm of discourse, arguing for a focus onlanguage and dialogue - not just as a channel to underlying mental processes, but rather talk andtext studied as situated social practices (Billig, 1996a; Gergen, 1991; 1994; Potter, 2000). In treating talk as a ‘performative discourse’ (Wetherell & Potter, 1992, p. 218), researchers have begun to critically re-examine the nature of political subjectivities - demonstrating the ways in whichthe boundaries and meaning of the nation are constituted in and through discourse  – e.g. in politicalspeeches (Hopkins & Reicher, 1996; Wodak, de Cilla, Reisigl & Liebhart, 2009), in the socialmemories of national groups (Lyons, 1996), and in racist discourse (Gray, Delany & Durrheim, 2005;Lynn & Lea, 2003; van Dijk, 2000). These studies demonstrate that n ationhood is not simply a ‘top - down’ political strategy, but also a socio -historical process residing between members of nation.Moreover, this work addresses the ideological processes involved in the production and maintenance of ’nation - ness’. A key example being the work of Billig (1995; 1996 b) who examines the ways in which ‘nation - ness’ is continually reproduced through mundane reminders or ‘ideological habits’ (e.g. postage stamps or national newspapers). Billig (1995) argues that explicitappeals to national identity are rendered possible by these mundane reminders that sustain theconcept of the nation (in a world of nations) as the natural order of things. In her work on the ways in which ‘ordinary actors’ construct themselves as nationalised subjects,Condor (1996; 2000) argues that top-down assumptions about political subjectivity do not alwayscorrespond well with everyday accounts of selfhood, nationhood and civil society. For example, in a study of English respondents’ talk about ‘this country’, Condor (2000) demonstrates that - far from   5being an unproblematic basis for subjectivity -national categories can be orientated to as a matter of intolerance and prejudice. In addition, studies of English and Scottish national identity havedemonstrated that constructions of nationhood can vary across different national contexts, andacross normative and rhetorical requirements. For example, Condor and Abell (2006a) highlight that ‘nation - ness’ is constructed as a progressive moral value in Scotland, but as retrogressive in England. Moreover, Condor and Abell (2006b) demonstrate the ways in which citizenship is constructed incommunitarian terms in Scotland, and in terms of liberal individualism in England. Finally, questionshave been raised about the degree to which national categories are necessarily realised as a form of  collective ’identity’, as the boundaries of the political community can also be constituted ininstitutional, geographic or territorial terms (Abell, Condor & Stevenson, 2006). Similarly, it is notclear that people will automatically construct citizenship at the level of the nation-state (Condor &Gibson, 2007; Condor & Abell, 2006a). Thus, rather than assume that citizenship is alwaysunderstood as a form of (national) political subjectivity, it may be more useful to ask when (and why)different forms of representation are used.Condor (2011a) argues that the questions posed here require a new social psychology of citizenship  –  one that explores the  practice of citizenship as manifest in and through discursive action. This isechoed by Haste (2004) who argues that the relocation of subjectivity from the cognitive to thediscursive realm undermines the idea that citizenship resides in people’s heads (see also Barnes etal, 2004). Similarly, Shotter (1993) argues that political objects do not exist in some objective sense;rather citizenship always entails the members of a community debating the meaning and scope of  ‘who should belong and why’ (p. 193). Thus, he argues that citizenship is not automatically conferredupon individuals, but is always being revised and argued over as part of the ‘cultural politics of everyday social life’ (p. 187). This means that it is something of a simplification to assume thatcertain entitlements will unproblematically flow from establishing oneself as a citizen. Instead, whatreally matters is the process of negotiation and contestation in which these identities are mobilised.
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