Citizenship: Personal lives and social policy, by Gail Lewis

The Policy Press, Bristol, 2004, pb 1 86134 521 6, viii + 184 pp, £17.99. Order this book

This is “the final book in a new series published by the Policy Press in association with the Open University. The series takes an interdisciplinary and theoretically informed approach to the study of social policy in order to examine the ways in which the two domains of personal lives and social policy and welfare practice are each partially shaped by and give meaning to the other” (p.vii).

The book is structured with the student in mind, and through study of accounts of personal experience, of social theology and of media reports and photographs, the student is led to question the meaning of ‘citizenship’ and to study the evolution of its meaning(s).

It’s all rather a jumble, and what’s in one chapter might often have been in another – but this is due to the nature of the concept being studied: for ‘citizenship’ is a complex and evolving idea.

What’s missing is an international perspective (for to look at other nations’ experience of citizenship would have provided an interesting perspective on the idea’s meaning in the UK), a discussion of English citizens’ status as subjects of a monarch, and a historical perspective: we are taken back in history to parts of the twentieth century, but not to Magna Carta. Why not?

The book will be a useful tool, not only for teachers and students of the Open University but for anyone studying on a first degree social policy or sociology course who is interested (or is expected to be interested) in the concept of citizenship. But it isn’t a book on citizenship for the general reader, for the sociological jargon needs to be known for much of the material to make sense. Either the language should be made more accessible or there should be a ‘jargon’ warning sticker on the front.

If there is ever a second edition then the authors might with profit include a chapter on social security benefits as a case study, for the evolution from the Poor Law to National Insurance to Job Seeker’s Allowance and Tax Credits tells us a lot about the changing meaning of citizenship.