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Javnost - The Public, Vol. 9 - 2002, No. 3

Coping with the Meaninglessness Of Politics: Citizenspeak In The 2001 British General Elections

, pages: 65-82

This article examines citizenspeak, or the discourses available to citizens talking about politics. The paper is based on 81 interviews with voters in Bristol, England, during the 2001 British national elections. The paper finds that citizens have a narrow range of discourses to draw on. The dominant type of citizenspeak is that of immobilising discourses, expressing disenchantment with the political process. The second category is that of oppositional discourse, capturing a view of politics as the bastion of elites out to exploit the working classes. Thirdly, the paper discusses cynical chic discourses. The voters who engage in these discourses take pleasure in their superior knowledge of the political process, which allows them to creatively poke fun of it. Fourth, discourses of duty emphasised the importance of voting, despite the shortcomings of representative democracy. Finally, some citizens mastered discourses of relevance: They could speak with engagement about events touching on their own lives. And it is in these discourses that we may find hopes for the revival of citizenship. The paper suggests that to solve the problems of disengagement, we must provide contexts in which it is acceptable to be interested in politics. This, in turn, entails broadening our definition of the political.

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