Social citizenship and social psychology

Emma Anderson, Stephen Gibson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper outlines the concept of social citizenship, which was first theorized in the late 1940s alongside the creation of the UK welfare state and concerns citizens' rights to a basic income and standard of living. It suggests that social citizenship—particularly welfare provision—is a useful and important topic for social psychological research, albeit one that has been largely overlooked. We provide an overview of key developments in social citizenship and consider the impact of 30-plus years of neoliberal governance in Western democracies, which has resulted in ongoing changes to how welfare rights and responsibilities are configured, such as policies that make social citizenship rights contingent on conduct. We outline social scientific work that examines these shifting ideas of citizenship, personhood, welfare, and conditionality and make the case for a critical discursive psychological approach, which we illustrate with a brief empirical example. We suggest that critical discursive social psychology is particularly well-placed to examine how psychological assumptions are built into both policy and lay discourse and how these can legitimate interventions designed to work on the conduct of the unemployed, such as therapeutic and behavior change initiatives. Finally, we argue that psychology is faced with a choice; while there are opportunities for the discipline to contribute to the design and implementation of such initiatives, to do so requires accepting the basic values of the underpinning neoliberal agenda. Instead, it is vital to place these assumptions under the critical microscope and explore how they work to obscure structural disadvantage.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere12510
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages14
    JournalSocial & Personality Psychology Compass
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2020

    Bibliographical note

    This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Anderson, E, Gibson, S. Social citizenship and social psychology. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2020;e12510., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.


    • discursive psychology
    • citizenship
    • Neoliberalism
    • social citizenship
    • welfare


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