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The story of how British citizenship developed and why this matters for questions of race, migration and belonging in 'Global Britain'

Hosted and produced by Michaela Benson.

Cover Art: George Kalivis

Production and post-production: Art of Podcast 

Dec 10, 2021

What do you know about the UK’s citizenship test? What do you think it tests for and how? What do you think it can tell us about the shape Britishness today?

In this episode, we look in-depth at the developing UK’s citizenship testing regime from its introduction in 2002 to its current form. Presenter Michaela Benson explores how in 2002 the then Labour Government introduced the Life in the UK test, language testing and compulsory citizenship ceremonies for those seeking to naturalise as British citizens. She highlights in particularly how these changes took place against the backdrop of 9/11, government policies on multiculturalism, integration and community cohesion. George Kalivis uncovers the story of the first person to take the citizenship test in Welsh. They are joined by Anne-Marie Fortier, Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, who talks about how the citizenship test is best understood as part of an ongoing process through which people are moulded into desirable and deserving citizens. As she describes, this is a deeply unsettling process that reveals uncertainty lies at the heart of the process, revealing that citizenship may not be as secure as it is so often imagined.

You can access the full transcripts for each episode over on the Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit website.

In this episode we cover …

  • The 2002 introduction of the UK’s citizenship testing regime
  • What looking at the citizenship test can tell us about Britishness and belonging
  • How the process of becoming a British citizen further consolidates the relationship between the English language and being British.


… citizenisation starts from the premise that migrants have a citizenship deficit, in the sense that they have to be made into citizens in order to be given then the formal status of citizenship through these different tests and other forms … in doing that it also uncitizenises them, it assumes that they are not citizens from another country, or it disregards the citizenship of another country but it also disregards the fact that these individuals might be active citizens informally, without the status; they might be active citizens, working in the country where they are residing, paying taxes in the country where they are residing, voting in the country where they are residing.


  • Anne-Marie Fortier

Where can you find out more about the topics in today’s episode?

You can find out more about Anne-Marie and her work here. She is occasionally on Twitter @AMFortierLancs.

We were discussing her book Uncertain Citizenship, published this year by Manchester University Press. If you are interested in her work on language and citizenship testing, we recommend her 2018 journal article On (not) speaking English: colonial legacies in language requirements for British citizenship.

Our recommended reading for this week is John Clarke, Kathleen Coll, Evelina Dagnino and Catherine Neveu’s Disputing Citizenship.


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