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The politics of other citizens

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In all kinds of political action, citizens are confronted with the performances of other citizens. An important guide to political behaviour is therefore likely to be the assumptions people make concerning how others can be expected to behave. This article explores common sense ideas about other citizens as potential political participants, drawing on a series of group interviews conducted with taxi-drivers in Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic. I argue the expectations voiced of other citizens tend to be pessimistic in nature, casting them as ill-informed, apathetic, passive and unduly self-interested, notwithstanding the appearance of a more optimistic view which holds they can be expected to follow the lead of those who 'take a stand'. These empirical observations lead to a discussion of the theoretical issues they raise, notably where to locate the origins of such views, and how to appraise their implications for democracy.

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