Discourses stressing an alleged increase of perception of insecurity and of fear of crime have been proliferating during the last years in both American and European cities. As a psychological category of experience, urban insecurity features a series of emotions and ideas related to actual or possible risks of victimisation likely to occur to any person, and particularly to vulnerable social groups, in the urban open space. However, urban insecurity does not emerge in a social vacuum. On the contrary, the individual’s psychological experience of feeling unsafe in the city is shaped in the midst of a culturally shared and socially organised set of representations, values and beliefs, which construct the identities, positions and actions of both the vulnerable citizens and the potential offenders. Accordingly, citizens’ ordinary depictions of the urban scene as insecure might map and reproduce, but also challenge and contest, broader cultural and ideological climates which are both politically rooted and consequential in terms of urban control policy making.To illustrate this, we present an empirical study conducted in the city of Barcelona, aiming to explore social representations of urban inecurity as expressed by common citizens in their daily environments. We approached 82 citizens (varying in age, gender and local/immigrant conditions) directly in the streets, using an open-ended questionnaire conceived to trigger people’s spontaneous images, opinions, attitudes and understandings of urban insecurity as subjectively experienced. Interviews took place in two different districts, with high and low objective rates of victimisation respectively. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and we performed a discursive-rhetorical analysis (Billig, 1991; Di Masso, Dixon & Pol, 2011; Potter & Wetherell, 1987), focusing on cultural images and common assumptions, patterns of variability and contradition constructing people’s attitudes towards the issue, and broader ideological resonances related to shared beliefs about the social order in the public space. We argue from the analysis that: 1) there is a clear separation between citizens’ opinions about urban unsafety and their actual experience of feeling unsafe, therefore discourses of insecurity may accomplish social functions other than communicating a sense of personal threat; 2) accounts of urban insecurity construct recurrent patterns of attribution to specific social groups (mostly immigrants), thereby legitimising the subtle expression of xenophobic opinions and warranting measures of social exclusion; and 3) discourses of urban insecurity trigger common ideological tensions shaping public space policies (freedom versus control, police surveillance versus education and community mediation, etc.). The study sheds light on the cultural and ideological processes and consequences that frame urban insecurity as a psychological topic relevant in the agenda of urban policy makers.