This paper argues for an approach to researching citizenship and democracy that begins not from normative convictions but from everyday experiences in particular social, cultural and historical contexts. The paper starts with a consideration of the ways in which the terms ‘democracy’ and ‘citizenship’ have been used in the discourses and approaches taken within mainstream studies of citizenship and democracy, drawing attention to some of the conceptual blind spots that arise. We call for more attention to be paid to contextual understandings of the politics of everyday life, and to locating state, NGO and donor rhetorics and programmes promoting ‘active citizenship’ and ‘participatory governance’ within that politics. It is this kind of understanding, we suggest, that, by revealing the limits of the normativities embedded in these discourses, can provide a more substantive basis for rethinking citizenship from the perspectives of citizens themselves.
Third World Quarterly (2008) 29 (6) 1069-1086 [DOI: 10.1080/01436590802201048]