Letters to the Editor as a Tool of Citizenship

  • Allison CavanaghEmail author


This chapter presents findings from a comparative study of a range of UK based newspapers of the nineteenth century. It examines the ways in which the practice of letter writing to national newspapers supported the development of citizenship as an extensive and multi-faceted project. Arguing against more restrictive versions of citizenship operationalised in Habermassian ideals of the public sphere, this chapter contends that much can be gained from applying wider ideas of the nature of the citizen that are emergent in analyses of contemporary reader participation. It examines the ways nineteenth-century readers understood the practice of writing letters to newspapers and the forms of power implied in this, going on to look at how nineteenth-century writers ‘performed’ citizenship. Finally, it considers the manner in which letter writers made the ‘personal’ into the ‘political’ and constituted public issues. In so doing, it challenges the idea that Letters to the Editor should primarily be considered as an adjunct to editorial policy, or as responses to already pre-constituted issues. Rather, letters allow us to trace how issues become politicised. This is considered in respect of the ways writers engaged with the idea of being a citizen of a state that was becoming more intimately entwined into their lives and also, by contrast, increasingly remote. Against this background, letters provided a resource for individuals in re-developing their sense of themselves as citizens, engaging with new forms of mediated empowerment.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LeedsLeedsUK

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