Who's a good citizen? Status and power in minority and majority youths' conceptions of citizenship

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Citizenship has become the language through which several interconnected societal concerns are debated in Europe today. One of these concerns relates to youths' willingness and abilities to live up to dominant citizen ideals. The questioning of young adults' citizenship is particularly intense for youths with an ethnic minority background who are feared to hold values at odds with majority society. In this article, I ask how Danish youths define what it means to be a good (and a bad) citizen, and I investigate how their answers are shaped by their status within dominant hierarchies of belonging. Analyzing 71 in-depth interviews with young adults in Denmark, I find that they share a conception of citizenship informed by virtues central to the Danish welfare state. At the same time, minority and majority youths place different emphasis on specific traits and duties. These shifts in emphasis reflect that the two groups do not experience the same access to making claims to citizenship. In particular, the ideal of the politically active and critical citizen is largely reserved for majority youths who – because of their status – feel more entitled and called upon to make independent judgments. Theoretically, the article brings the literatures on ordinary citizenship and everyday nationhood into conversation to reflect on the simultaneous reproduction of common norms and on how hierarchies of belonging nevertheless shape different groups' abilities to redefine citizenship. More generally, I contribute to broader sociological debates about agency and structure by discussing how majority youths' power to make independent claims to citizenship masks their privileged position in the national order of things. The study thus sheds light on how structure is made visible to those who are confronted with constraints (minority youths) and invisible to those who have a secure status (majority youths).

TidsskriftBritish Journal of Sociology
Sider (fra-til)154-167
Antal sider14
StatusUdgivet - jan. 2022


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