Each contributor looks at the language through which culture is formed and expressed, at the political and institutional trends that shape culture and at the role of culture in daily life. This interesting and informative account of modern British culture embraces controversy and debate and never loses sight of the fact that Britain and Britishness must always be understood in relation to the increasingly international context of globalisation. M I C H A E L H I G G I N S is Director of the Journalism and Creative Writing programme at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.
C L A R I S S A S M I T H is Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies in the School of Art, Design and Media, University of Sunderland. J O H N S T O R E Y is Professor of Cultural Studies and Director of the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland. Cambridge Companions to Culture The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Culture The Cambridge Companion to Modern American Culture Edited by C H R I S T O P H E R B I G S B Y Edited by
The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Culture Edited by M I C H A E L H I G G I N S , C L A R I S S A S M I T H and J O H N S T O R E Y MICHAEL HIGGINS CLARISSA SMITH and The Cambridge Companion to Modern French Culture Edited by N I C H O L A S H E W I T T The Cambridge Companion to Modern German Culture Edited by E VA K O L I N S K Y and W I L F R I E D VA N D E R W I L L JOHN STOREY The Cambridge Companion to Modern Irish Culture Edited by J O E C L E A R Y a n d C L A I R E C O N N O L L Y The Cambridge Companion to Modern Italian Culture Edited by Z Y G M U N T G .
The American way of life revolves around popular culture. The artifacts surrounding them shape the lives and personalities of individuals. The choices people make regarding the things they buy come from commercials they have seen on TV, ads in the newspaper, or something they have seen someone else possess. Advertisers design marketing campaigns that are especially appealing to get consumers to ...
B A R A N S K I a n d R E B E C C A J. W E S T The Cambridge Companion to Modern Latin American Culture Edited by J O H N K I N G The Cambridge Companion to Modern Russian Culture Edited by N I C H O L A S R Z H E V S K Y The Cambridge Companion to Modern Spanish Culture Edited by D AV I D G I E S The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture Edited by F R A N C I S O ’G O R M A N CA MBR IDGE UNIVERSITY PR ESS Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Delhi, Dubai, Tokyo, Mexico City Contents Cambridge University Press The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York www. cambridge. org Information on this title: www. cambridge. org/9780521683463 Notes on contributors Chronology xi page vii © Cambridge University Press 2010 Introduction: modern British culture 1 M ic h a e l H ig gi n s , C l a r i s s a S m i t h a n d Joh n S t o r e y This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. 1 Becoming British joh n s t o r e y 2 26 First published 2010 2 Language developments in British English dav i d c rys ta l Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library 3 Schooling and culture 42 k e n jo n e s 4 The changing character of political communications joh n s t r e e t 62 5 Contemporary Britain and its regions joh n t o m a n e y 79 6 Contemporary British cinema sa r a h str eet Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data The Cambridge companion to modern British culture / edited by Michael Higgins, Clarissa Smith, John Storey.
. cm. — (Cambridge companions to culture) Includes bibliographical references and index. I S B N 978-0-521-86497-8 — I S B N 978-0-521-68346-3 (pbk. ) 1. Great Britain—Intellectual life—20th century. 2. Great Britain—Social life and customs—20th century. 3. Popular culture—Great Britain—History— 20th century. 4. Great Britain—Social conditions—20th century. 5. Great Britain— Civilization. I. Higgins, Michael, 1967— II. Smith, Clarissa. III. Storey, John, 1950— IV. Title. V. Series. DA 110. C253 2010 941. 082—dc22 2010023745 96 7 Contemporary British fiction pat r ic i a waug h 15 8 Contemporary British poetry a l e x g o o dy I S B N 978-0-521-86497-8 Hardback I S B N 978-0-521-68346-3 Paperback 137 Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. vi Contents 9 Theatre in modern British culture 154 m ic h a e l m a n g a n 10 Contemporary British television 171 ja n e a r t h u r s 11 British art in the twenty-first century 189 va l e r i e r e a r d o n 2 British fashion 208 Contributors c a ro l i n e e va n s 13 Sport in contemporary Britain 225 JA N E A RT H U R S ellis cash mor e 14 British sexual cultures 244 cla r issa smith 15 British popular music, popular culture and exclusivity 262 sheila whiteley 16 British newspapers today 279 m ic h a e l h ig gi n s 17 The struggle for ethno-religious equality in Britain: the place of the Muslim community 296 ta r iq mod o od Guide to further reading Index 317 314 is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies and Head of Culture, Media and Drama, at the University of the West of England, Bristol.
Currently, the proportion of international students in British universities are increasing significantly. As a result, this has raised questions about what possible effects of this change on international students themselves in the new academic environment——from UK culture to cultural diversity in higher education. This discussion will attempt to provide an overview of the often positive and ...
Her publications in feminist cultural studies and contemporary television include Television and Sexuality: Regulation and the Politics of Taste (2004) and the edited collection Crash Cultures (2002), as well as work on post-feminist drama for the journal Feminist Media Studies. E L L I S C A S H M O R E is Professor of Culture, Media and Sport at Staffordshire University and is a regular media commentator on sports culture and ethics. His most recent books include Celebrity/Culture (2006), Making Sense of Sports (4th edn, 2005), Beckham (2nd edn, 2004) and Tyson: Nurture of the Beast (2004).
D AV I D C R Y S T A L is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Bangor. He read English at University College London, then held university posts at London, Bangor and Reading before becoming an independent scholar in 1984. The author of many books on linguistics and English language studies, he is best known for his two Cambridge Encyclopedias: of Language (1997) and of The English Language (2003).
In the last 50 years or so technology had contributed to the exponential growth of the mass media where what started out with the telegraph was subsequently followed by the radio, the newspaper, magazines, television and the new arrival the Internet. The outcome of all these subsequent introductions had made society to be dependant on information and communication for all the major steps they are ...
An autobiographical memoir, Just a Phrase I’m Going Through, was published in 2009.
C A R O L I N E E VA N S is Professor of Fashion History and Theory at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design within the University of the Arts, London. She is the author of Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness (2003) and co-author of The London Look: Fashion from Street to Catwalk (2004), Fashion and Modernity (2005), Hussein Chalayan (2005) and The House of Viktor & Rolf (2008).
viii Notes on contributors Notes on contributors ix A L EX G O ODY VA L E R I E R E A R D O N is Senior Lecturer in Twentieth-century Literature at Oxford Brookes University.
Her research interests cover the relationships between modernity, technology, culture and gender, and current projects include a forthcoming book on technology, literature and culture. Goody is author of Modernist Articulations (2007).
M I C H A E L H I G G I N S is Director of the Journalism and Creative Writing programme in the Department of English Studies at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. He has published numerous articles covering such areas as political communications, celebrity culture, news discourse and national identity. He also serves as co-convenor of the Media and Politics Group of the Political Studies Association.
Higgins’s most recent book is Media and Their Publics (2008).
K E N J O N E S is Professor of Education at Goldsmiths, University of London. He has written Education in Britain (2003) and co-authored Schooling in Western Europe: The New Order and its Adversaries (2008).
He is currently working on a book about the survival or re-emergence of radical educational traditions in the twenty-first century and is co-editing a reader on ‘creative learning’. M I C H A E L M A N G A N is Professor of Drama at Exeter University. He has also worked as a playwright, a director, a literary manager, a dramaturg and an actor.
His primary research interests lie in the area of theatre and society, and he has published a wide range of books, articles and papers on the subjects of theatre and gender, Shakespeare and Renaissance theatre, theatre and cultural history, applied theatre and contemporary British theatre. His most recent monograph is Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (2007).
Beauty, is anything that appeals, and is incorporated in current fads and trends of the area. Its features drastically vary across the globe where antagonizing manners are adopted. Obesity is such an example, where in the west, obesity is shunned, and admonished, and on the contrary, in the African countries, obesity lures and is considered to be a blessing, exhibiting richness. Beauty may be skin ...
T A R I Q M O D O O D is Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy and the Founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol. He is a regular contributor to the media and to policy debates n Britain, was awarded an MBE for services to social sciences and ethnic relations in 2001 and was elected a member of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2004. His most recent books are Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea (2007) and, as co-editor, Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship (2009).
is Senior Lecturer in Media at University College Plymouth St Mark and St John as well as a practising fine-art photographer. She has written extensively for Art Monthly, and her articles on the aesthetics, meanings and uses of art appear in such journals as the Journal of Feminisms and Art and the Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism.
C L A R I S S A S M I T H is Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland. Her research and publications focus on the expanding sexual sphere for heterosexual women: its institutional practices, representational strategies, uses and meanings. Smith has published in a variety of journals and edited collections, including Sexualities and the European Journal of Cultural Studies, and is author of One for the Girls: The Pleasures and Practices of Reading Women’s Porn (2006).
J O H N S T O R E Y is Professor of Cultural Studies and Director of the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland. He has published widely in cultural theory and cultural history. His latest book is called Culture and Power in Cultural Studies (2010).
J O H N S T R E E T is Professor of Politics at the University of East Anglia. His main research is on the relationship between politics and popular culture and mass media. He is the author of Mass Media, Politics and Democracy (2001), Politics and Popular Culture (1997) and Rebel Rock: The Politics of Popular Music (1986).
The Essay on The Similarities Or And Differences Of Studying In Private University And Government University
The similarities or and differences of studying in private university and government university A university is an institution of higher education and research which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university is a corporation that provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education. Actually, University was divided into two which are state university and private ...
He is a member of the editorial group of the journal Popular Music and of The Cambridge Companion to Rock and Pop (co-edited with Will Straw, 2001).
S A R A H S T R E E T is Professor of Film at the University of Bristol. Her most recent books are Transatlantic Crossings: British Feature Films in the USA (2002), The Titanic in Myth and Memory (co-edited with Tim Bergfelder, 2004), Black Narcissus (2005) and Queer Screen: The Queer Reader (co-edited with Jackie Stacey, 2007).
Her latest book, Film Architecture and the Transnational Imagination: Set Design in 1930s European Cinema, is co-authored with Tim Bergfelder and Sue Harris (2007).
J O H N T O M A N E Y is Professor of Regional Development and Director of the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Professor of Regional Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Associate Director of the UK Spatial Economics Research Centre (SERC) x Notes on contributors The Formation of Modern British Culture Chronology of key events 1707 1708 1775—83 1776 1785 1793—1802 1803—15 1811 1819 1832 and an Academician of the (UK) Academy of Social Science.
He has published over 100 books and articles on questions of local and regional development including Local and Regional Development (2006) and has undertaken research projects for, among others, UK Government and Research Councils, the European Commission, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and local and regional governments and private sector and voluntary organisations in the UK and elsewhere. PA T R I C I A WA U G H is Professor of English at Durham University. She has published widely in the field of twentieth-century fiction, literary theory and literature and intellectual history.
Her most recent books are Revolutions of the Word (1997) and Literary Criticism and Theory: An Oxford Guide (2006).
She is currently completing two books: Beyond the Two Cultures: Literature, Science and the Good Society and the Blackwell History of British Fiction, 1945—Present. S H E I L A W H I T E L E Y is Professor of Popular Music at the University of Salford. Her interests include the relationships between popular music, sexualities and gender, as well as between popular music and hallucinogenics.
National identities are only one among the many identities that people can hold”, (Clarke,2009, p212). The key question this statement is asking is how people perceive themselves and how others perceive them as British. This highlights the main area of this assignment, what is Britishness and who is perceived as British? And also to what extent does British culture have ‘shared values’, ideas and ...
Her books include Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity and Subjectivity (2000) and Too Much Too Young: Popular Music, Age and Identity (2003).
1836 1838 1855 The Act of Union between the parliaments of England and Scotland. Merger to form the Honourable East India Company, to facilitate imperial trade. American War of Independence. Publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Foundation of The Times newspaper in London. French Revolutionary Wars. Napoleonic Wars. Publication of the debut Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. The Peterloo Massacre, in St Peter’s Fields, Manchester.
Reform Act, to increase parliamentary representation in cities and to extend voting rights on the basis of the control or ownership of land. Charles Dickens’s first novel, The Pickwick Papers, is published. The formation of the Chartist movement, demanding the right to vote for men over twenty-one, annual parliamentary elections, the abolition of property qualification for MPs, payment for MPs, vote by secret ballot and equal electoral districts. The repeal of the Stamp Act on the cost of newspapers. xii Chronology Chronology xiii 1867 1962 1962 1870 1884 1898 1967 1967 1968 1970 963 1965 1966 1967 1900 1914—18 1918 1921 1922 1926 1928 1970 1975 1976 1939 1942 1945 1945 1948 1977 1977 1979 1981 1981 1981 1982 1982 1983 1984—5 1948 1954 1956 1956 1957 1959 1960 1960 1960 1961 The Second Reform Act, extending the vote to male householders. The Elementary Education Act, providing for free education for all children between five and thirteen years of age. Third Reform Act, equalising voting rights across urban and rural areas and limiting constituencies to one Member of Parliament. The acquisition of the ‘new territories’ of Hong Kong on a ninety-nine-year lease.
The formation of the Labour Party. The First World War. The Representation of the People Act, giving votes to women and removing property qualifications for men. Marie Stopes opens birth-control clinic in London. The establishment of the BBC. The General Strike. The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act, lowering the voting age for women to equal that for men. The outbreak of the Second World War. Publication of the Beveridge Report, calling for a welfare state. The end of the Second World War. Election of a Labour government, led by Clement Attlee.
The arrival of the ship Empire Windrush at Tilbury, carrying first immigrants from the West Indies. Withdrawal from India and partition of the former colony into India and Pakistan. The Television Act, establishing an independent television network. The emergence of Lonnie Donegan and skiffle music. The Suez Crisis. The formation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The Obscene Publications Act. D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, unedited. The first episode of soap opera Coronation Street. Defeat in the Commons of the Private Members Bill to relax laws on homosexuality.
Birth-control pill made available to ‘all women’. The Beatles release their first single for the Parlophone label. That Was the Week That Was political satire first shown on BBC television. Equal Pay Act passed in the USA. The Beatles play at the Shae Stadium in New York. The England football team win the World Cup. Sexual Offences Bill legalising homosexual sex in private for consenting adults over the age of twenty-one. The formation of the far-right political party the National Front. The switch of the BBC Radio’s Home, Light and Third Services to Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of blood’ speech, attacking immigration. First Glastonbury Festival (originally Pilton Festival) held at Michael Eavis’s Worthy Farm; Tyrannosaurus Rex were the headline act. Equal Pay Act passed in Britain. Sex Discrimination Act promoting equality of opportunity between men and women. Race Relations Act, incorporating the earlier acts of 1965 and 1968, prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethic and national origin. The Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The formation of political movement the Anti-Nazi League.
Election of a Conservative government, led by Margaret Thatcher. New Cross Fire: arson attack on a house party in London killed eighteen young black partygoers. Riots in Toxteth, a district of Liverpool, and Brixton, a district of London. Marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. The Falklands Conflict. Launch of Channel 4 as a second commercial broadcaster. Provisional IRA bomb outside Harrods department store in London kills six and injures ninety. The Miners’ Strike. xiv Chronology Chronology xv 1984 1994 1994 1994 1994 1994 1995 1985 1985 1985 1986 1987 1987 1988 996 1996 1997 1997 1988 1997 1997 1997 1997 1998 1988 1989 1989 1989 1998 1999 2000 2000 2000 2000 2000 2001 2001 1990 1990 1990 1990—1 1991 1992 1992 1992 1992 1993 Provisional IRA bombing of the British Cabinet at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. Live Aid concert. English football hooliganism prompts indefinite Union of European Football Associations ban. Riots in Brixton, Toxteth and Peckham. Lord Scarman cites poverty and racial discrimination as causes of rioting. British and French plan construction of Channel Tunnel. Third term for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Government.
Fire kills thirty-one people at the King’s Cross underground station. Terrorist bomb destroys Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and subsequent fatwa. Passing of the Local Government Act including Section 28 requiring that local authorities ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’. Eventually repealed in Scotland in 2000 and in the rest of the UK in 2003. Sky TV first satellite channel in UK. Hillsborough Football Stadium disaster.
Church of England Assembly votes to allow ordination of women priests. Restoration of diplomatic links between Britain and Argentina. Poll Tax riots. Margaret Thatcher resigns as leader of Conservative Party. John Major becomes Prime Minister. Participation in the Gulf War, against Iraq. IRA launch bomb attack on Downing Street. UK opts out of Maastricht Treaty. Queen Elizabeth II’s annus horriblis. Launch of English football’s Premier League. General Election returns John Major as Prime Minister and the Conservative Government for its fourth term. Murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
Church of England ordination of women priests. Official opening of the Channel Tunnel connects the UK to mainland Europe. The election of Tony Blair as Labour leader and development of ‘New Labour’. British Government meet with Sinn Fein. Launch of National Poetry Day. Diana, Princess of Wales, interviewed by Martin Bashir for the BBC. Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre opened. IRA bombing of Manchester. The election of a Labour government led by Tony Blair. Publication of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. IRA declares a ceasefire.
The Sensation exhibition of Young British Artists. The formal handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese Government. The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car crash in Paris. Good Friday Agreement is signed, bringing peace to Northern Ireland and cessation of IRA bombing campaigns in mainland Britain. Human Rights Act. The formation of a devolved Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly. Ken Livingstone becomes Mayor of London in the UK’s first direct mayoral election. Opening of Tate Modern art gallery. Sven-Goran Eriksson is made first foreign manager of English football team.
Channel 4 broadcasts first series of reality TV production Big Brother. Race Relations Amendment Act establishing statutory duty on public bodies to promote race equality. Tony Blair and New Labour secure second term in government. Participation in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. xvi Chronology M H A EL H IGGI NS, CLA R ISSA SMITH IC AND JOH N ST OR EY 2001 2002 2002 2002 2003 2003 2004 2004 2005 2005 2005 2005 2006 Introduction: modern British culture: tradition, diversity and criticism 2007 2007 2007 2008 2008 2009 2010 Foot and Mouth crisis. Hutton Inquiry into death of David Kelly and BBC reporting.
Channel 4 soap opera Brookside ends after twenty-one years. Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act. Participation in the invasion of Iraq and a second Gulf War. UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest receives nul points. Hunting Act bans hunting with hounds. Civil Partnerships Act legalises same-sex union. Freedom of Information Act. The ‘7/7 Bombings’ in London. General election returns Labour Party with reduced majority. Relaunch of BBC’s sci-fi series Dr Who. Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister after Blair steps down. Celebrity Big Brother ‘race row’. UK Borders Act.
Wettest summer since records began. Criminal Justice and Immigration Act receives royal assent. Financial crisis leads to ‘credit crunch’ and the nationalisation of a number of large banks. The release of the expenses claims of Members of Parliament, many of which are excessive, provokes a national media scandal on standards in public life, and prompts the introduction into law of a Parliamentary Standards Bill to police future Members’ allowances. General election produces a hung parliament in which no party has an overall majority, with the Conservatives as the largest single party.
What does it mean for us to study a national culture? As we will see in the pages to come, it means looking across and reflecting upon a range of the practices and activities that contribute towards the shared experience of community and ‘nation’. In part our endeavour calls upon an understanding of the various cultural and political institutions within which culture is organised and regulated, but, perhaps even more, it demands we comprehend something of the transience and excitement of everyday experience.
In Britain, cultural activities are shaped by their histories and their traditions, but they also have a dynamic relationship with the present. A comprehensive account of British culture should therefore be alert to the forces that give living, thinking and playing in Britain form and character, while presenting an enthusiastic account of how this national culture changes along with the population and the world at large. The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Culture offers just such an introduction to culture in twenty-first-century Britain.
It brings together seventeen critical and insightful essays by some of the leading academics in British intellectual life. The subjects and issues the chapters cover are purposively varied, reflecting the diversity and debates that circulate in discussions of modern British culture. What emerges is a dynamic collection that brings together a number of aspects of living in and thinking about British culture. This is, therefore, a Companion designed to provide a fascinating and informative overview of modern British culture.
However, the reader will also learn that British culture is not singular. Like most modern national cultures it is characterised by diversity and difference. 2 Introduction Michael Higgins, Clarissa Smith, John Storey 3 The Companion captures this diversity in two ways. First, it includes chapters that reflect a broad range of the forms of interests, activities and pursuits that come under the rubric of ‘culture’. These include the daily practices discussed in David Crystal’s chapter on language and Clarissa Smith’s on sex.
There are also examples of those activities that express the relationship between the realms of the person and the state, such as Ken Jones on education and John Street on politics. The majority of the chapters present critical overviews of individual cultural realms: Sarah Street (cinema), Patricia Waugh (fiction) and Alex Goody (poetry), Mick Mangan (theatre), Jane Arthurs (television), Valerie Reardon (art), Caroline Evans (fashion), Ellis Cashmore (sport), Sheila Whiteley (popular music) and Michael Higgins (newspapers).
Second, in a manner designed to build on and complement those chapters dedicated to cultural forms and practices, the collection also explores how ‘culture’ needs to be seen within a network of difference and a hierarchy of social relations. The themes of diversity and difference highlighted by John Storey and developed in John Tomaney’s chapter on regions, as well as the chapter by Tariq Modood on ethnicity, provide critical interpretations of the various factors and mechanisms that direct contemporary British life.
Aside from its divisibility into nations, ethnicities and regions, what is also exceptional about Britain and British culture — a commonly cited point of distinction between Britain and many other Western democracies — is its retention of an informal but nevertheless pervasive system of social class. The influence of social class is easily recognisable in British culture, as David Crystal’s discussion of the link between accent, dialect and social belonging demonstrates. Of course, it is far too simplistic to draw from this that Britain has none of the characteristics of a meritocracy.
Yet it remains the case that while much media coverage is devoted to those figures in British civil and civic life that come from workingclass backgrounds — businessman Lord Alan Sugar and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott are two prominent examples of this — the higher reaches of the formidably powerful British Civil Service tend to be staffed by those educated at the medieval English universities of Oxford and Cambridge and drawn from the middle and upper classes. However, even as aspects of British cultural life remain in place, a broader appreciation will see Britain as a state characterised by change.
Indeed, those turning to contemporary Britain as an object of study may well be struck by the fact that the country is in a period of transformation, almost crisis. Much of the mass media in Britain reports on shifting population patterns that reflect immigration first from the former colonies of the Caribbean and South-East Asia, and then from the accession states to the European Union. The UK itself has altered its political structure, with Wales and Scotland forming devolved parliaments and establishing a relative autonomy within the British political framework.
All too often, the assumption is that the very notion of ‘Britain’ is under threat like never before. Yet, as John Storey and Tariq Modood show, external influences have often guided the development of the British state and national sense of itself. As a collection of islands, Britain has always been and continues to be a diverse cultural mix. The capacity of British culture as a whole to engage with a shifting social and ethnic environment is helped by a journalistic, intellectual and scholarly resolve to reflect critically on the implications of Britain’s national culture and its imperial past.
In an important sense, the critical traditions exemplified in this Companion are as integral to British culture as the artefacts and practices they describe. Indeed, in order to fully understand the political underpinnings of much of the British cultural landscape, it is important to understand this tradition of highlighting and criticising the role of culture in fostering social inequality in British culture. Britain operates as an alliance between relatively autonomous nations.
At present, the bureaucratic category of ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ — the phrasing that appears on the passport of any British subject — comprises England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This is a geographically complex arrangement. Whereas England, Scotland and Wales are on the largest island of ‘Great Britain’, Northern Ireland is part of the neighbouring island of Ireland along with the independent Republic of Ireland.
In terms of ‘state’ identity, what John Storey refers to in Chapter 1 as the idea of Britain, this stems from a mixture of political alliances, including a 1707 union between the English and Scottish parliaments. Recent decades have shown how these arrangements of state are subject to rapid change. The period since 1999, for example, has seen devolved parliaments and legislative assemblies set up in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, amid discussion in both Northern Ireland and Scotland over the distribution of powers between parliaments and even the integrity of the British Union.
It is important to note that while the form and extent of identification with the nations of Britain are fluid, each has maintained a coherent and viable cultural identity. 4 Introduction Michael Higgins, Clarissa Smith, John Storey 5 Resilient and powerful as the national identities contained within the bureaucratic state of Britain may be, the modes of identification within Britain are not confined to the internal nations and are also expressed in keenly held regional identities within and across the composite nations.
In the opening chapter, John Storey presents a critical account of what it ‘means’ to be British. Nationality, he argues, is an important part of the networks of signification we call culture. To share a national culture is to interpret the world, to make it meaningful and to experience it as meaningful, in recognisably similar ways. Signification is, therefore, fundamental to our sense of national belonging. Britishness, like any other national identity, is a body of meanings with which we learn to identify. Moreover, it is a body of meanings that seems natural and replete with common sense.
For the British traveller abroad, socalled ‘cultural shock’ may happen when his or her sense of what is ‘natural’ (i. e. British) is suddenly confronted by another nationality’s sense of what is ‘natural’, when his or her British ‘common sense’ is suddenly challenged by the ‘common sense’ of another national culture. Since culture is bound up in regimes of influence and definition that are subject to shift, so culture itself is in continual development. This is apparent in David Crystal’s clear and convincing account of language change in contemporary Britain.
As Crystal points out, languages are continually changing. There are occasions in which this change is dramatic. The Norman Conquest, for example, had an enormous impact on English spelling and vocabulary. Similarly, during the Renaissance, the number of words borrowed from other European languages more or less doubled the number of English words in use. Mostly language change is slow and generally unnoticed; however, as Crystal observes, we are now living through a period of ‘rapid and widespread language change’.
Crystal’s chapter specifies what lies behind an interesting episode for language and British culture. According to Crystal, a range of diverse factors, including the social, economic and technological, have conspired to make the past two decades extremely important ones for the evolution of language in Britain. The acceleration of change that we see in language in Britain is also reflected in education, as Ken Jones observes in his chapter on the culture of schooling. Jones also joins with Crystal in acknowledging the international influences on cultural change.
Until the late twentieth century, Jones writes, school education in Britain was organised within clearly defined national boundaries. Over the past twenty years, however, this has changed completely, as the influences of international bodies have begun to weigh on the British school system. Jones explains how the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — a worldwide body dedicated to the imposition of the free market — unites with the various policy initiatives of the European Union to confront British schools with the challenges of contributing to a new global ‘knowledge economy’.
With particular focus on the English experience, Jones explores how education has responded to this new global policy agenda. He outlines the terms of the relationship between government and curriculum design and how this arrangement impacts upon the dominant ways of understanding the social and economic purpose of education in contemporary Britain. In his chapter on changes in political communications, John Street also shows how cultural change in Britain is best viewed within the broader international context.
In Britain, as in many other Western liberal democracies, the realm of politics appears to be drawing upon many more of the resources of popular culture than ever before. He charts this shift to the emergence in the late 1950s of television as a major tool of election campaigning. These developments in electoral strategy set in place a new industry dedicated to the refashioning of politics for a massmedia audience, and these practices of ‘marketing politics’ have subsequently spread from the exceptional periods of election time to the everyday routine of daily press briefings and policy announcements.
Street discusses those perspectives that see this popularisation of politics as the contamination of the British public realm, as well as those that make the positive case that political discourse in Britain is simply being rendered more accessible. The extra factors that Street highlights, though, include the expansion of political activism amongst popular British cultural figures, such as musicians, added to an increasing media competence of the British electorate in ‘reading’ political communications in a critical way.
In other words, it is arguably the case that the more that political discourse moves into the broader British cultural realm, the better equipped the electorate is to interpret the issues in their own terms. John Tomaney’s chapter notes the marginalisation of ideas of ‘the regional’ in learned writing, and it should be clear to us that this oversight has been an unfortunate one. As Tomaney demonstrates, it is important to understand regional culture if we are to have a full 6 Introduction Michael Higgins, Clarissa Smith, John Storey 7 appreciation of the variations and particularities that go into the make-up of British culture.
He argues that the North cultivates a particular ‘structure of feeling’ based around notions of masculine forms of working-class belonging, framed within a regionally contingent sense of ‘authenticity’. It is a key component of the narrative of the ‘English North’ that such qualities of endeavour and sincerity reside there rather than in the South. However, it has always been necessary to see these regional identities as constituents within British culture, even as they operate in an oppositional relationship to the metropolitan centre.
Sarah Street’s chapter is also concerned with a sense of belonging. Dividing British cinema into thematic categories: nostalgia, youth culture, ethnicity and asylum, and place, space and identity, Street shows how recent films have explored social inequalities and notions of community using heightened realism and stylistic energy such that the films combine ‘a local address with a more global sensibility’, opening up British cinema to international audiences. Although the ‘fairytale’ existence of the privileged denizens of Notting Hill (dir.
Roger Michell, 1999) and Four Weddings and a Funeral (dir. Mike Newell, 1994) remain a feature of British film, titles such as Trainspotting (dir. Danny Boyle, 1996), 28 Days Later (dir. Danny Boyle, 2002), Last Resort (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski, 2000) and My Son the Fanatic (dir. Udayan Prasad, 1997) challenge any notion of an homogeneous British film culture, given that their ‘environments of displacement and alienation’ contrast sharply with the ‘heritage’ prettiness of Merchant Ivory films. Street emphasises the dynamic use of tradition in British film.
In her chapter on contemporary British fiction, Patricia Waugh explores the redrawing of the maps of British fiction and the contributions of contemporary authors, who, in their explorations of identity and the politics of gender, race, sexuality and ethnicity, have catapulted British fiction out of its inwardness and timidity. Galvanised by what Waugh describes as a ‘Thatcher effect’, British fiction launched its own critiques of the greed and individualism of the 1980s political scene and finally deposed the domestic novel to install new kinds of writing from the margins and from the experiences of ‘the migrant’.
Contemporary British fiction encompasses an impressive array of modes of storytelling from the allegorical and experimental to the traditional, but what unites much of it is a shared determination to cross ‘boundaries’ of convention, ethnicity and social belonging. Alex Goody’s chapter argues that far from being an archaic form of expression, contemporary British poetry articulates a vibrant and youthful challenge to the traditional power structures of language and literature, energised, as it is, by Black British poets as well as the regional cadences of Scottish and Welsh poetry.
The ambivalences of identity are central concerns of British poetry’s ‘hybrid voice’. Such poetry explores the many possible roots and routes of ‘belonging’ in contemporary Britain. This energy is also found in poetry that explores and reworks sexual and gender identifications. British poets cross multiple boundaries, of science and myth, technology and art, past and present, sensual and logic in innovative ways that challenge all claims that ‘British poetry is dead’. In his discussion of British theatre, Michael Mangan begins with the recognition that drama is widespread in Britain.
Its most popular forms of exhibition are television, film and radio. Although Mangan’s focus is on live theatre, he is aware that any attempt to maintain a clear division between live and recorded performance is very complicated indeed. Mangan’s chapter presents a critical map of the many places where these collide and influence each other. Although live theatre may no longer be the hegemonic mode of theatrical performance it still has a significant role to play. As he explains, the immediate cultural relevance of theatre stretches back to the productions of ancient Athens, ‘celebrating’ and ‘defining’ society.
In ways complementary to other realms of national cultural expression, live theatre in Britain intervenes in the social and cultural environment as well as giving it expression. The particular role of television in what is argued to be a cultural era of abundance is discussed in Jane Arthurs’ chapter. She writes that globalising forces have had a significant impact on the mixed system of public service and commercial provision that had previously defined British broadcasting.
As the driving ethos behind television production changes from the Reithian ‘giving the public what they need’ to the more consumerist ‘what they want’, Arthurs tells us, television continues to occupy a role as educator and improver of the British populace. Arthurs examines the role of the citizen-consumer in relation to these changes and the rhetorical purposes this figure fulfils in debates about content, regulation and competition. Even if television’s ideological role may be changing, Arthurs concludes, within institutional and regulatory debates it retains its central place as ‘a window on the world’. Introduction Michael Higgins, Clarissa Smith, John Storey 9 Just as Arthurs emphasises the economic pressures behind the development of television policy, so it is necessary to keep sight of the relationship between even the most socially conscious cultural activities and the needs of commerce. Valerie Reardon’s chapter takes a critical view on the art ‘movement’ credited with the reinvention of London as a significant cultural capital. In her discussion of ‘young British artists’ (YBAs), Reardon xplores the ways in which art myths are born and their importance to individual artist’s commercial success and to wider political and cultural agendas. The transition of the political scene from Thatcherite individualism to the regeneration of ‘New Labour’ provided a space, she argues, in which a new art avantgarde could flourish, founded, as it was, in the shared principles of publicity, opportunism and metropolitan savvy. Although the term ‘YBA’ spanned a very disparate group of artists, it became synonymous with the marketing of brand Britain.
Reardon’s chapter explores the intersections between politics and hard-nosed economics, the promulgation of notions of nationhood in the seemingly ‘transcendent’ sphere of the Arts. The Britishness of British fashion, as Caroline Evans demonstrates in her chapter, is traditionally defined from outside, by American, European and Japanese consumers keen to purchase the innovative, individual and often eccentric outfits designed by names such as McQueen and Westwood.
What is understood as ‘British’ or more often, ‘English’ style is a playful use of images of tradition and history as ‘stylistic and iconographic indices of British identity’ rather than anything solidly British. Evans argues that British fashion’s strong profile and distinctive identity in the global marketplace is the result of a seemingly democratic mix of multicultural diversity, sub-cultural identities and style from the British streets, together with the creative input of its designers and retailers.
Sartorial codes and styles of dress in Britain have been used to signal opposition to dominant culture, often allied with musical genres in ways that Evans suggests are peculiarly British. The class and ethnic dynamics of sub-cultural style have been essential to the development of British street styles and to the British reputation as ‘more creative but less commercial than fashion in any other country’. With its further links to the British art-school tradition, fashion in Britain is eclectic and often revolutionary; even as its economic presence is comparatively small, its influence is felt across the globe.
In his chapter on contemporary sport in Britain, Ellis Cashmore acknowledges the capacity of sport to drive changes in dominant modes of social representation and gender relations, although always in parallel with an increasingly powerful commercial ethos. Through the conduit of sport, such factors as gender, race and ethnicity temporarily cede their importance to the spectacle of individual and team excellence and to an overall national sporting interest.
Yet understanding the modern history of sport in Britain involves coming to terms with an internal contradiction. As Cashmore explains, there is, on the one hand, the Corinthian ideal of amateurism, most readily associated with the upper classes and the tradition of publicschool sports. According to these values, ‘competition itself was a respectful order in which players exerted themselves unsparingly’ with a view to improving the self rather than merely defeating one’s opponents.
This sits in contrast with the rise of the professional players from the late nineteenth century onwards and the surrender of sport to competitiveness and business interests. Cashmore describes how sport has shifted to the very centre of British culture, in the main through its transformation from a pastime to an industry. The defining philosophy of modern sport, the demand to ‘strive for success’, has helped replace class-based authority with the force of the commercial imperative.
In any prolonged study of culture, it is easy to lose sight of the broader meaning of culture as also concerned with ordinary behaviour as much as with art and learning. In keeping with this fuller understanding of culture, Clarissa Smith explores an area of life normally excluded from collections on national culture, the nation’s sexual pleasures and behaviours. Smith’s discussion ranges across the multiple sites, political, popular and private, where sexuality is debated and practised.
She does not argue for a peculiarly British sexual character but rather tries to show how, far from being a matter of personal choice or private interest, sex is of significant importance in modern British culture, a site of regulation, improvement and social engineering as well as a source of considerable angst and entertainment. Also concentrating on the way in which popular culture is mediated, used and experienced, Sheila Whiteley’s chapter focuses on British popular music, in particular the rise and fall of Britpop in the final decade of the twentieth century.
Whiteley’s analysis includes an insightful discussion of the ways in which popular music is often used to 10 Introduction Michael Higgins, Clarissa Smith, John Storey 11 articulate notions of national identity and how such applications inevitably exclude as much as they include. Writing as a feminist popular musicologist, and using Glastonbury (Britain’s foremost popular music festival) as a case study, Whiteley also explores the relationship between gender and genre.
Her general position is to present popular music as the outcome of a negotiated series of relations of power and influence, as she teases out important aspects of the significance of popular music in contemporary Britain: the ‘hidden agendas’ behind its production and consumption, as well as those means of representing the self that music helps to cultivate. Michael Higgins begins his chapter on British newspapers by acknowledging the importance of newspapers to Britain’s sense of its political and cultural identity.
He argues that the notion of the press as a ‘fourth estate of the realm’ situates the industry as representative of the British population against the institutions of power and privilege. Although the press have never lived up to the rhetoric of this demanding tradition and are currently suffering from declining print sales, Higgins argues that newspapers remain important as socio-political identifiers and as a means of reproducing established political and class-based social groupings.
Higgins’s argument resonates with that of John Street, such that it appears that the politics of newspapers are motivated as much by target markets as an attachment to political ideologies. Higgins suggests that these divisions in the newspaper market extend beyond the conventional one between popular and quality newspapers and include various factors of political party allegiance and identification with particular, shifting social groupings and politically significant categories. Tariq Modood presents a compelling analysis of religious equality and secularism in multi-faith Britain.
As he explains, Britain has long been a multi-faith society in which the dominant Anglican Church has had to compete with other versions of Christianity. Throughout the twentieth century, and mostly through processes of migration, significant additions to Britain’s religious plurality have included Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Although, as Storey indicates in an earlier chapter, these patterns are at the very core of British culture and its development, Modood points to the elasticity of those discourses of prejudice that are exercised against ethnic minorities in Britain.
In Modood’s assessment, prejudice has the capacity to redirect itself towards various and new forms of migrant, ethnic and religious belonging. Indeed, the shifting character of Britain’s population has meant that prejudicial conduct and systems of behaviour prove capable of eluding even the most robust anti-discrimination legislation. Together, the chapters collected here present the reader with an interesting and informative account of modern British culture, an account that never loses sight of the fact that Britain and Britishness must always be understood in relation to the increasingly international context of globalisation.
Becoming British 13 OHN J STOR EY 1 Becoming British Introduction Although the Greeks and the Romans used versions of the term ‘Britain’ to describe the islands and their Celtic inhabitants, it only became the name of a nation in the early eighteenth century. While it is true that the seeds of this invention can be found in earlier periods (the incorporation of Wales in 1536, James I of England being also James VI of Scotland in 1603), Britain was itself invented in 1707 by the Act of Union that united England and Scotland. Between 1801 and 1921 Ireland was added and the title changed to the United Kingdom.
Following the division of Ireland in 1921 the name changed again, becoming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In her 1992 book Britons, Linda Colley details how the new invention had become firmly established by the time Victoria came to the throne in 1837. The Act of Union was itself followed by, for example, the composition of the unofficial British national anthem, ‘Rule Britannia’ in 1740, the official national anthem, ‘God Save the King/Queen’ in 1745 and the designing of the national flag, the Union Flag in 1801.
She argues that conflict with France was perhaps the most significant factor in the formation of British self-identity: ‘It was an invention forged above all by war. Time and time again, war with France brought Britons, whether they hailed from Wales or Scotland or England, into confrontation with an obviously hostile Other and encouraged them to define themselves collectively against it. ’1 Conflict with France allowed a version of Britishness to be superimposed over a range of internal differences.
In other words, war encouraged a movement from passive awareness of nation to active support for it. In doing this, it also encouraged a certain overshadowing of internal differences, especially those of social class. But war with France was not the only significant factor in this process. Also driven by war, the building of the British Empire in North America, Africa, India and Australia, I would argue, was an even more important factor in producing a shared sense of Britishness.
Traditionally, national identity has often been understood as something coherent and fixed, an essential quality of a group of people that is guaranteed by the ‘nature’ of a particular territorial space. However, although identities are clearly about ‘who we think we are’ and ‘where we think we came from’, they are also about ‘where we are going’. National identities are always a narrative of the nation becoming; as much about ‘routes’ as they are about ‘roots’.
In other words, nations are never only ever invented once: invention is always followed by reinvention. History is full of examples of where powerful national figures and national institutions have engaged in creating new symbols, new ceremonies and new stories of historical origins as a means to present the nation to itself and to the world in a new and positive way. ‘Many people object to the idea of nations having a “brand”. They claim that national identities are far too complex and many-voiced, and that, in any case, it would be wrong for anyone o manage them. Yet in practice all modern nations … manage their identities in ways that are not dissimilar to the management of brands by companies. ’2 National branding is often tied up with claims about maintaining supposedly ancient traditions. Although Britain is an invented nation, only sixty-nine years older than the United States of America, it is not unusual to hear British politicians make grand claims, usually in response to what they perceive as the interference of ‘Europe’, about 1,000 years of glorious British history being under threat.
In a television interview in 1962 the Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell claimed that entry into the European Economic Union would mean ‘the end of Britain as an independent nation state … It means the end of a thousand years of history. ’3 At the Conservative Party Conference in 1992 Prime Minister John Major claimed, in an attempt to reassure party members worried about the possibility of Britain being forced into a federal Europe, ‘And those who offer us gratuitous advice, I remind them of what a thousand years of history should have told them — you cannot bully Britain. In similar fashion, this time in defence of what he called Britain’s ‘unnameable essentials’, Major claimed in 1994 that 14 Becoming British John Storey 15 ‘this British nation has … a Parliament and universities formed over seven hundred years ago, a language with its roots in the mist of time … This [nation] is no recent historical invention: it is the cherished creation of generations. ’ In a speech to the Labour Party Conference in 1997 Prime Minister Tony Blair made the following claim: ‘We are one of the great innovative peoples.
From the Magna Carta to the first Parliament to the industrial revolution to an empire that covered the world; most of the great inventions of modern times came with Britain stamped on them. ’ Leaving to one side whether or not it is wise for a Labour Prime Minister to boast about the achievements of empire, his grasp of British history is a little shaky. The Magna Carta was written in 1215, while the first parliament, the so-called ‘Mother of Parliaments’, was established in 1295. Both of these events occurred a long time before the establishment of Britain as a nation.
Although all these accounts are clearly intended to produce a positive image of Britain, they may in fact produce the opposite effect, presenting Britain as a backward-looking nation with a rich past but not much of a future. Seeing Britain as an old country living off its historical capital may be particularly unhelpful when an institution wishes to present Britain as a vibrant and innovative country. David Mercer, Head of Design at BT, makes this very clear: nearly ten years ago [i. e. around 1987], British Telecom did research into the appropriateness of the name British Telecom in overseas markets.
We found that we had problems with the name in certain parts of the world — Japan in particular — where the name ‘British’ was understood to stand for ‘of the past’, ‘colonial’, not about innovation, not about high technology, or the future or moving forward. Given the fact that we are in a fast-moving, highly innovative, creative area in telecommunications, the name British was a problem, and that is why we changed from British Telecom to BT. 4 Nature and nationality Nations often seem rooted in the very nature that provides them with their geographical space.
Part of the sense of belonging is bound up in the way the territory itself is articulated symbolically, making the fit between nature and nation seem natural. This is often the result of the ways in which territorial space has been made to signify by artists and writers. In the opening episode of the BBC documentary series, A Picture of Britain, David Dimbleby announces ‘Our love of this countryside seems natural to us, yet it is only in the last three hundred years that we have learned to appreciate the beauty of our landscape. The documentary then charts the way in which painters and writers have changed our perception of the British landscape, demonstrating and detailing the cultural construction of what now seems like a perfectly natural way of seeing and belonging. Similarly, the ‘discovery’ of folk culture across the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries was an integral part of emerging European nationalisms. From the middle of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth we find the same idea repeated over and over again: folk culture is the very embodiment of the nature of a nation; in it, the national and natural blur.
Folk song, for example, is presented as almost an outgrowth of nature, a nature in which the culture of the nation can be grown. For this reason, if for no other, it should be collected and treasured. National identity, as demonstrated by the symbolic articulation of landscape and the ‘discovery’ of folk culture, is a form of identification. What we are invited to identify with is what Benedict Anderson calls an ‘imagined community’. 5 Anderson demonstrates how nationality, or nationness, is constructed using cultural artefacts.
A nation ‘is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion’. 6 What distinguishes all nations is how they imagine themselves. A nation always consists of both horizontal and vertical relations. The former are relations of national belonging, the latter are relations of, for example, social class, ethnicity, gender and generation. Whereas belonging to the nation is a membership supposedly based on equality, vertical relations are rarely, if ever, other than relations of inequality.
If a nation is to remain cohesive, horizontal relations must always work to control the potential disruptive effect of vertical relations. In a point that repeats Colley’s claim about the role of war in the construction of Britain, Anderson observes that nation-building involves constructing an imagined community in which, in spite of the existence of obvious inequalities, horizontal relationships appear more important than vertical relations. Anderson sees the emergence of the nation corresponding with the development of two particular nation-enabling cultural forms: the novel and the newspaper.
The daily newspaper, for example, with its 16 Becoming British John Storey 17 juxtaposition of news stories, presents its own imagined community, inviting the reader to make coherent sense of what might otherwise appear an arbitrary array of items. It mimics and reinforces the type of imagination necessary in order to figure oneself as belonging in the imagined community of the nation. The very act of reading a daily newspaper reinforces and reproduces a sense of communal belonging.
We know that particular morning and evening editions will overwhelmingly be consumed between this hour and that, only on this day, not that. The … ceremony … is performed in silent privacy, in the lair of the skull. Yet each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion. Furthermore, this ceremony is incessantly repeated at daily or half-daily intervals throughout the calendar.
What more vivid figure for the secular, historically-clocked, imagined community can be envisioned? At the same time, the newspaper reader, observing exact replicas of his own paper being consumed by his subway, barbershop, or residential neighbours, is continually reassured that the imagined world is visibly rooted in everyday life. 7 It is not difficult to add to Anderson’s nation-enabling media. Radio and television and many other aspects of everyday life operate in ways that allow us to imagine ourselves as part of a nation.
Regulatory fictions and regimes of truth it is nevertheless the case that ‘it would … be wrong to suppose that we can ever usefully discuss a social system without including, as a central part of its practice, its signifying systems, on which, as a system, it fundamentally depends’. 11 Signification is fundamental to our sense of national belonging. To share a national culture is to interpret the world, to make it meaningful and to experience it as meaningful in recognisably similar ways. Signification materially organises national practice.
So-called ‘culture shock’ happens when we encounter radically different national networks of meaning; that is, when the ‘natural’ or ‘common sense’ of our national community is confronted by the ‘natural’ or ‘common sense’ of another national community. However, national cultures are never simply shifting networks of shared meanings; on the contrary, they are always both shared and contested networks of meanings. National cultures are where we share and contest meanings of ourselves, of each other and of the social worlds in which we live.
This way of thinking about national cultures is best understood using Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony. Gramsci uses hegemony to describe processes of power in which a dominant group does not merely rule by force but leads by ‘consent’. Hegemony involves a specific kind of consensus, one in which a social group presents its own particular interests as the general interests of the national formation as a whole; it turns the particular into the general.
It works by the transformation of potential antagonism into simple difference, working to subsume vertical relations of inequality into horizontal relations of national belonging. This is operative in part through the circulation of meanings that reinforce dominance and subordination by seeking to fix the meaning of social relations and national belonging. As Williams explains, It [hegemony] is a lived system of meanings and values — constitutive and constituting — which as they are experienced as practices appear as reciprocally confirming.
It thus constitutes a sense of reality for most people … It is … in the strongest sense a ‘culture’ [understood as a realised signifying system], but a culture which has also to be seen as the lived dominance and subordination of particular classes. 12 We should not, however, assume that our nationality is freely imagined. On the contrary, nationality is something similar to what influential feminist theorist Judith Butler calls a ‘regulatory fiction’. 8 Nationality is a fundamental part of the networks of signification we call culture.
Raymond Williams, one of the founding figures of British cultural studies, writing in 1961, defined culture as ‘a particular way of life, which expresses certain meanings and values not only in art and learning but also in institutions and ordinary behaviour … the characteristic forms through which members of the society communicate’. 9 What I find particularly interesting about his definition is the connection he makes between culture and signification. Williams is later even more explicit about this connection, defining culture as ‘a realised signifying system’. 0 While there is more to a nation than signifying systems, Hegemony involves the attempt to saturate the social with meanings that support the prevailing structures of power. In a hegemonic situation, subordinate groups appear to actively support and subscribe to 18 Becoming British John Storey 19 values, ideals and objectives, which incorporate them into the prevailing structures of power. However, hegemony, as Williams observes, ‘does not just passively exist as a form of dominance.
It has continually to be renewed, recreated, defended, and modified. It is also continually resisted, limited, altered, challenged’. 13 Although hegemony is characterised by high levels of consensus, it is never without conflict; that is, there is always resistance. For hegemony to remain successful, conflict and resistance must always be channelled and contained — rearticulated in the interests of the dominant. There are two conclusions we can draw from the concept of culture as a realised signifying system when thinking about national belonging.
First, although the nation exists in all its enabling and constraining materiality outside culture, it is only in culture that the nation can be made to mean. In other words, signification has a performative effect: it helps construct the realities it appears only to describe. Marxist theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe use the word ‘discourse’ in much the same way as I am using the term ‘culture’. According to Laclau and Mouffe, but the rather different assertion that they could constitute themselves as objects outside any discursive condition of emergence. 5 If I kick a spherical object in the street or if I kick a ball in a football match, the physical fact is the same, but its meaning is different. The object is a football only to the extent that it establishes a system of relations with other objects, and these relations are not given by the mere referential materiality of the objects, but are, rather, socially constructed. This systematic set of relations is what we call discourse. 14 I would call these systematic relations culture.
However, both positions share the view that to stress the discursive or the cultural is not to deny the materiality of the real. The discursive or cultural character of something does not mean that it does not really exist. The fact that a tennis ball is only tennis as long as it is part of a system of culturally constructed rules does not mean that outside these rules it is not a physical object. In other words, objects exist independently of their discursive or cultural articulation, but it is only within discourse or culture that they can exist as meaningful objects in meaningful relations.
For example, earthquakes exist in the real world, but whether they are constructed in terms of ‘natural phenomena’ or ‘expressions of the wrath of God’, depends upon the structuring of a discursive field. What is denied is not that such objects exist externally to thought, To argue that culture is best understood as a realised signifying system is not a denial that the material world exists in all its constraining and enabling reality outside signification. The material world will continue to exist whether anyone signifies it or not.
But the material world, including the nation, exists for us — and only ever exists for us — articulated in signification. A national culture like Britishness therefore consists of a network of shared and contested meanings organised around relations of power. The second conclusion we can draw from seeing a national culture as a realised signifying system concerns the potential for struggle over meaning in a social formation. Given that different meanings can be ascribed to the same ‘sign’ (that is, anything that can be made to signify), meaning-making (i. e. he making of culture) is therefore always a potential site of struggle. The making of meaning is always entangled in what Russian theorist Valentin Volosinov identifies as the ‘multi-accentuality’ of the sign. 16 Rather than being inscribed with a single meaning, a sign can be articulated with different ‘accents’; that is, it can be made to mean different things in different contexts, with different effects of power. Therefore, the sign is always a potential site of a conflict of social interests and is often in practice an arena of struggle and negotiation.
Those with power seek to make the sign appear uni-accentual. That is, they seek to make what is potentially multi-accentual appear as if it could only ever be uni-accentual. This is important because, as Stuart Hall, perhaps the leading cultural studies academic, points out, ‘Meanings [i. e. cultures] … regulate and organise our conduct and practices — they help to set the rules, norms and conventions by which social life is ordered and governed. They are … therefore, what those who wish to govern and regulate the conduct and ideas of others seek to structure and shape. 17 Meanings have a ‘material’ existence in that they help organise practice, they establish norms of national behaviour. As Hall also makes clear, ‘The signification of events is part of what has to be struggled over, for it is the means by which collective social understandings are created — and thus the means by which consent for particular outcomes can be effectively mobilized. ’18 Signification is, therefore, fundamental to a sense of national belonging. There is not anything natural about nationality. One is not born British, one becomes British. National identities consist 0 Becoming British John Storey 21 of the accumulation of what is outside (i. e. in culture) in the belief that it is an expression of what is inside (i. e. in nature).
As a result, national subjects only become recognisable as national subjects through conformity with recognisable standards of intelligibility. As Judith Butler puts it, in a discussion of sexual identity that is also applicable to national identity, ‘“naturalness” [is] constituted through discursively constrained performative acts … that create the effect of the natural, the original, and the inevitable. 19 The performance of nationality creates the illusion of a prior substantiality — a core national self — and suggests that the performative ritual of nationness is merely an expression of an already existing nationality. However, our nationality is not the expression of the location in which we are born, it is performatively constructed in processes of repetition and citation, which gradually produce and reinforce our sense of national belonging.
Butler’s concept of performativity should not be confused with the idea of performance understood as a form of playacting, in which a more fundamental identity remains intact beneath the theatricality of the identity on display. National performativity is not a voluntary practice, it is a continual process of almost disciplinary reiteration. National identity is created through repeated and sustained social performances and involves citations of previous performances of nationality. Performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms.
And this repetition is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject. This iterability implies that ‘performance’ is not a singular ‘act’ or event, but a ritualized production, a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production, but not … determining it fully in advance. 20
Our national identities depend upon the successful performance of our nationalities, and there is therefore a whole array of rituals, symbols and institutions that work to ensure that our sense of national belonging is mostly unconscious and successful. But whether unconscious or not, the array establishes what French post-structuralist Michel Foucault calls a regime of truth. As he explains, ‘Each society has its own regime of truth, its “general polities” of truth — that is, the types of discourse it accepts and makes function as true. 21 National identities are made from a complex mix of rituals, symbols and stories. Every country has its dominant or official narratives of its distinctive nationhood. It is these narratives that seek to draw us into place as members of a particular national community. Institutions, rituals, ceremonies, symbols and other means of signification tell these dominant or official stories. We encounter them on coins, stamps, flags, anthems, festivals, parades, passports, war memorials, folk songs, museums, national heroes and heroines.
British examples might include Trooping the Colour, Changing the Guard, the Grand National, the FA Cup Final, certain rivers and mountains, particular monuments, the Union Jack, the BBC, the Houses of Parliament, fish and chips, the Highland Games, the Notting Hill Carnival, the Edinburgh Festival, the Eisteddfod, drinking warm beer. These are just some of the many rituals and symbols that seem to articulate Britishness. Similarly, the stories a nation tells about itself are a fundamental aspect of its official identity.
Britain has many such stories: the home of fair play, the stiff upper lip in times of danger, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, doing the decent thing, an island people, the imperial nation, the birthplace of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, the first industrial nation, the cradle of scientific and technological innovation, the sporting pioneer (inventing badminton, cricket, football, golf, hockey, rugby, snooker and tennis), the birthplace of the English language and island of poets and playwrights.
It is these shared meanings, embedded forms of signification, that construct and maintain a sense of Britishness. These are the stories we are told in various ways and at various times about ‘our history, ‘our’ customs, ‘our’ habits, ‘our’ values, etc. These stories, and many more like them, help construct a sense of what Britishness is for both people in Britain and for those looking at Britain from abroad. These are by no means the only stories the nation tells itself and others, but it is always in response to stories like these that other stories, perhaps oppositional narratives, have to negotiate and struggle.
We may not simply accept these stories, but they do have the power of a certain common sense; they set the agenda in terms of what it is to be British. The official stories of British identity are told by a number of institutions, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Tourist Authority, the British Council, the BBC. Each in its different way articulates a powerful sense of Britishness. National identity is not based on the critical detail of these stories but on their generalised performance and reiteration. National stories of identity are always selective and 22 Becoming British
John Storey 23 This is perhaps one of the reasons immigration often produces such heated and irrational debate. Beyond fantasies of monoculture simplified, presenting generalisations that we are invited to accept without looking too deeply into their potential complexities and contradictions. When Blair told the Labour Party Conference that the British Empire is something of which we can all be proud, he was not expecting a detailed and critical engagement with this claim or with the empire but rather a general acceptance that the ability to construct such an empire is something to admire.
In similar ways, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, the Somme, Trafalgar and Waterloo are rolled out as significant national moments in British history without any expectation that these national moments need be examined in any critical detail. The whole purpose of these stories is to bind people together, to encourage the situating of their individuality within the collectivity that is Britishness. It does not even matter if the stories are untrue. One common theme of these stories, as we have already noted, is the timelessness of Britishness.
It is something that has always existed: we are an island people especially chosen by God to do wonderful things in the world. Even when the stories do not extend our greatness to the beginnings of time, they always seem to want to insist on at least a millennium of wondrous contributions to humanity. Tony Blair’s speech (10 May 2007) to confirm his forthcoming resignation as Prime Minister is a wonderful example of this kind of rhetoric: ‘This country is a blessed nation. The British are special, the world knows it, in our innermost thoughts, we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth. Our sense of national belonging may be drawn to our attention by the more spectacular national events, but it is in the mundane routines of everyday life, seemingly so natural and so rooted, that our sense of national belonging seems most grounded. Much of the repertoire of national belonging consists of the taken-for-granted, routine practices of everyday life. Although the state clearly limits and encourages patterns of national life, particularly evident in educational and media policy, much of our sense of national belonging takes place outside the official displays of nationalism.
Michael Billig writes of what he calls ‘banal nationalism’, referring to the many ways in which our sense of national belonging is reproduced by the endless reiteration of ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our’ in the discourses of everyday media. 22 It is a daily process of ‘naturalisation’ in which the socially constructed is made to seem natural. The naturalness of national belonging, however, can suddenly be exposed as culturally constructed by the arrival in our lives of people who bring to Britain a different sense of what is natural and obvious.
In the new global economy, Britain has moved from the centre to the periphery. British identity has even become less important to the British population itself, with only about 50 per cent regarding it as an important part of their identity. Devolution, globalisation, new forms of cultural diversity resulting from recent patterns of immigration, the end of empire, closer integration with mainland Europe: all of these factors draw attention to complexity and change as key factors in understanding contemporary Britishness. However, such factors are not new to Britain.
It has always been a hybrid nation, always mixing together different cultures and ethnicities. Like any nation, complexity and change are fundamental to its existence. Britishness has always been far less unified than it is imagined. It has always been a diverse and pluralistic culture of cultures, characterised by differences of many varieties, including those based on ethnicity, region, religion, social class, gender and generation. Britain is a vibrant society with a rich ethnic diversity. We should not really speak of British culture at all but of British cultures.
Multiculturalism is, therefore, a deeply misleading term in that it depends on a notion of cultural absolutism, which supposedly exists before the many varied aspects of the ‘multi’ are brought into contact. But this is not how cultures work. Cultures are always already multicultures in that they always consist of difference and sameness. It is only ever culture in the singular in discourses of power or in naive discourses of resistance. Moreover, what should be regarded as something positive, something to celebrate, is too often presented as a negative, something to constrain and control.
Overt and organised racism is only one aspect of this negativity. It is nevertheless an irrational and damaging aspect, one that brings despair and destruction to the lives of many British people. Britain still lives in the shadow of empire and its loss. Its legacy is everywhere, from patterns of migration from peoples of the former colonies to the honours system, in which it is still possible to be awarded the Order of the British Empire and the Medal of the British Empire.
The most disfiguring and damaging legacy of empire is racism and xenophobia which often claim a natural relationship between Britishness and 24 Becoming British 11 Williams, Culture, p. 207. 12 Williams, Culture, pp. 207, 108. 13 R. Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 112. 14 E. Laclau and C. Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, 2nd edn (London: Verso, 2001).
15 Laclau and Mouffe, Hegemony, p. 108. 16 V. N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (New York: Seminar Press, 1973).
17 S. Hall, ‘Introduction’, in S.
Hall (ed. ), Representation (London: Sage, 1997), p. 4. 18 S. Hall, ‘The Rediscovery of Ideology: the Return of the Repressed in Media Studies’, in J. Storey (ed. ), Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (Harlow: Pearson Education, 2006), p. 137. 19 Butler, Gender Trouble, pp. xxvii—xxix. 20 J. Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 95. 21 M. Foucault, ‘Truth and Power’, in J. D. Faubion (ed. ), Michel Foucault Essential Works: Power (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2002), p. 131. 22 M.
Billig, Banal Nationalism (London: Sage, 1995).
23 P. Gilroy, After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture? (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 4. 24 Gilroy, After Empire, p. 3. John Storey 25 whiteness or Britishness as essentially Anglo-Saxon. The imperial narrative of Britain’s greatness has often worked to make the relationship between nationality and colour appear absolutely natural. This assumed relationship makes no sense in contemporary Britain, but it also makes no sense in terms of the geographical space that Britain now occupies.
In historical terms, for example, black people were here long before the English, who were preceded by various Celtic tribes and by the Romans, who brought with them people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Against the disfiguring threat of racism and xenophobia and the ridiculous fantasies of racial purity, cultural-studies academic Paul Gilroy invites us all to embrace ‘the simple ideals’ of recognising that we are all fundamentally similar: ‘human beings are ordinarily far more alike than they are unalike. ’23
We need to know what sorts of insight and reflection might actually help increasingly differentiated societies and anxious individuals to cope successfully with the challenges involved in dwelling comfortably in proximity to the unfamiliar without becoming fearful and hostile. We need to consider whether the scale upon which sameness and difference are calculated might be altered productively so that the strangeness of strangers goes out of focus and other dimensions of a basic sameness can be acknowledged and made significant. 24
This would produce a Britain, a great Britain, that had truly managed to move out of the debilitating shadow of empire. Notes 1 L. Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707—1837 (New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Press, 1992), p. 5. 2 M. Leonard, Britain ™ : Renewing Our Identity (London: Demos, 1997), p. 43. 3 H. Gaitskill, (1962) “Classic Podium: The End of 1000 Years of History’, available online at www. independent. co. uk/arts-entertainment/classic-podiumthe-end-of-1000-years-of-history-1190761. html (accessed 26 February 2010).
Quoted in Leonard, Britain ™, p. 39. 5 B. Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1991).
6 Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 15. 7 Anderson, Imagined Communities, pp. 39—40. 8 J. Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), p. 180. 9 R. Williams, ‘The Analysis of Culture’, in J. Storey (ed. ), Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (Harlow: Pearson Education, 2006), pp. 32—40; p. 32. 10 R. Williams, Culture (London: Fontana, 1981), p. 207. Language developments in British English 7 A DV I D C R Y S T A L 2 Language developments in British English Introduction Languages do not change at a steady pace. They reflect the developments that take place in the culture of which they form a part. Some events in English history had immediate and dramatic linguistic consequences, such as the huge influence of French on English vocabulary and spelling after the Norman Conquest, or the even greater influx of loan words from European languages during the Renaissance, which virtually doubled the size of the English word stock.
At other times, the pace of linguistic change was relatively slow, such as during the eighteenth century, where the desire for order and stability was reflected in the publication of the first major dictionaries, grammars and pronunciation manuals of the language. Today, we are experiencing a new period of rapid and widespread language change, but not for any one particular reason; rather, a range of social, economic and technological factors have combined to make the decades on either side of the millennium linguistically quite extraordinary.
Pronunciation Of all aspects of spoken language, pronunciation is the most noticeable. Individual words and grammatical constructions are occasional in nature, whereas pronunciation is pervasive. We can say nothing without pronouncing it. As a result, we are particularly alert to changes that affect the way people articulate their vowels, consonants and syllables, or that alter the way they use stress, intonation, rhythm and tone of voice. In a word, we are sensitive to changes in accent.
The primary purpose of an accent is to identify where someone is from, geographically or socially. It is a badge of belonging — and its strength lies in the fact that it can be used in circumstances where other markers of identity fail. Badges are useless if the wearer is around the corner or in the dark. Accents transcend such limitations. There is also a naturalness about them that facilitates their function. People have to buy and display their badges and flags of identity. With accents, they only have to open their mouths.
Sensitivity about accents is everywhere, in all languages, but the situation in Britain has always attracted special interest. This is chiefly because there is more regional accent variation in Britain, relative to the size and population of the country, than in any other part of the English-speaking world — a natural result of 1,500 years of accent diversification in an environment which was both highly socially stratified and (through the Celtic languages) indigenously multilingual.
George Bernard Shaw was exaggerating when he had phonetician Henry Higgins say (in Pygmalion) that he could ‘place a man within six miles. I can place him within two miles in London. Sometimes within two streets’ — but only a little. Two major changes have affected English accents in Britain over the past few decades. The attitude of people towards accents has altered in ways that were unpredictable thirty years ago; and some accents have changed their phonetic character very significantly over the same period.
The main change in attitude has affected the prestige accent in England, known as ‘Received Pronunciation’ (RP).
This is an accent that emerged at the beginning of the nineteenth century, associated with the way upper-class and well-educated people spoke, especially in the ‘golden triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge. It came to be the norm in the English public schools, and when the products of those schools left the country to run the British Empire, they took the accent with them, thus making RP the ‘official’ voice of Britain around the world.
When the BBC was formed in the 1920s, Lord Reith opted for this accent as the one most likely to be nationally understood, and during the twentieth century RP became the uncontested prestige accent of Britain. For many it was the public auditory image of the country, still valued today for its associations with the Second World War years, with the royal family and with leading classical actors such as Laurence Olivier. In 1980, when the BBC made its first attempt to use a regionally 28
Language developments in British English David Crystal 29 accented announcer on Radio 4, the decision aroused such virulent opposition that it was quickly reversed. Susan Rae, the Scots presenter in question, was withdrawn. Twenty-five years on, and Susan Rae’s voice was once again being heard on Radio 4. And in August 2005 the BBC devoted a whole week to a celebration of the accents and dialects of the British Isles. (Accent refers to pronunciation only; dialect to grammar and vocabulary as well. The ‘Voices’ project, as it was called, was an attempt to take an auditory snapshot of the way Britain was sounding at the beginning of the new millennium. Every BBC regional radio station was invited to take part, and local presenters arranged recordings of the diversity within their area, as well as programmes that explored the history and nature of local accents and dialects. The impact of the project was considerable and can still be followed (through the website at www. bbc. co. uk/voices).
It was institutional recognition of a fundamental change in attitudes to regional speech which had taken place in Britain. There is now a much greater readiness to value and celebrate linguistic diversity than there was a generation ago. As far as broadcasting was concerned, it was the rapid growth of local commercial radio during the 1980s that fostered the new linguistic climate. Regional radio gained audience (and national radio lost it) by meeting the interests of local populations, and these new audiences liked their presenters to speak as they did.
At the same time, national listening and viewing figures remained strong for such series as BBC Radio 4’s The Archers and ITV’s Coronation Street, where local accents were privileged. The trend grew in the 1990s and developed an international dimension: alongside the London accents of the BBC soap opera EastEnders were the Australian accents of Neighbours. Soon, non-RP accents began to be used as part of the ‘official’ voice of national radio and television, most noticeably at first in more popular contexts, such as on Radio 1 and in commercial television advertisements.
Some regional accents from the time even became part of national consciousness, widely mimicked in the manner of catch phrases — such as a 1977 Campari ad in which Lorraine Chase responded to the come-on line ‘Were you truly wafted here from paradise? ’ with the immortal response, ‘No, Lu’on airport. ’ Before long, regional voices began to be heard presenting other channels and are now routine, illustrated by the Scottish accents of several weather forecasters on BBC television or the South Welsh accent of Huw Edwards reading the BBC News.
Nonindigenous accents, especially from the West Indies and India, began to be heard. Old attitudes die hard, of course, and there will still be those who mourn the passing of the days when a single accent ruled the British airwaves. But they are a steadily shrinking minority. RP continues to have a strong presence in public broadcasting, but its phonetic character has changed. Accents never stand still, and indeed radio is the chief medium where accent change can be traced.
Anyone listening to radio programmes made in the 1920s and 1930s cannot fail to be struck by the ‘plummy’ or ‘far back’ sound of the RP accent then — when, for example, ‘lord’ sounded more like ‘lahd’ — but even the accents of the 1960s and 1970s sound dated now. And changes continue to affect RP. It is difficult to illustrate them without the help of phonetic transcription, but I can perhaps rely on our auditory memory to ask readers to compare the voice of the Queen, as classically heard in a speech for the opening of parliament or a Christmas message, with the voices of Prince Harry or Prince William, two generations on.
There are many differences. The Queen would never, for example, replace the final consonant in such words as ‘hot’ with a glottal stop; the youngsters often do. Nor would she use the central vowel quality heard in ‘the’ in such words as ‘cup’; her version is articulated much further forward in the mouth, more in the direction of ‘cap’. The BBC, or any other national broadcaster, does not introduce language change. Rather, it reflects it, and thereby fosters it by making it widely known.
This has been the case with ‘Estuary English’, a variety which became noticed when it attracted media attention in the early 1990s, though the phenomenon had been evolving over many years. The estuary in question was that of the river Thames, and the people who were noticed as having an estuary accent lived on either side of it, chiefly to the north. The variety is characterised not only by accent but also by certain words and grammatical constructions, such as the use of ‘right’ as a tag question (It starts at six, right? ) or ‘innit’ (‘ isn’t it? ’).
Phonetically it can be roughly placed as an accent intermediate between RP and Cockney. Nationally known figures who use it include Jonathan Ross, and it is used by the two characters played by Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson in the BBC television comedy series of the 1990s, Birds of a Feather, as well as by some of the characters in EastEnders. The accents are not identical, and that is important. Estuary is a broad label, covering a number of closely related ways of speaking. (RP was never homogeneous either. ) 30 Language developments in British English David Crystal 1 One of the most noticeable pronunciation trends of the past twenty years has been to hear the way in which features of Estuary English have radiated from the London area to other parts of the country. They have travelled north towards Yorkshire and west towards Devon, and they are widespread in East Anglia, Kent and along the south coast. It is not that they have replaced the local accents of these areas (though this sometimes happens); rather, they have modified the phonetic character of those accents, pulling the vowels and consonants in different directions.
Old-timers in a rural village now sound very different from the younger generations who live there. As part of the ‘Voices’ project, a television documentary was made (called Word on the Street) about four generations of a family living in Leicester. One could hear the changes from old to young: an East Midlands accent was present in all of them, but in several different forms. It is this proliferation of accents which is the national pattern today. People sometimes claim that ‘accents are dying out’.
What they have noticed is the disappearance of old rural ways of speech as the people who used them pass away. But the people who now live in these localities still have accents, albeit very different in character. The Estuary English heard in Hampshire is very different from that heard in Leicestershire. Nor is Estuary English the only contemporary pronunciation trend. In the major population centres of the country we hear a new phenomenon: a remarkable increase in the range of accents within the community, brought about largely by the influx of people of diverse ethnic origin.
In Liverpool, there used to be only ‘Scouse’; today we can hear Chinese Scouse, Jamaican Scouse and an array of accent mixes reflecting the growing cosmopolitan character of that city. London, of course, is where this trend is most noticeable. There are well over 300 languages spoken in London now, and the English used by these ethnic communities inevitably reflects the linguistic background of the speakers. New combinations of sounds, words and grammatical constructions can be heard, such as the mix of Bengali and Cockney used by members of the Bangladeshi community in East London.
Every British city today displays such accent and dialect mixes. To understand why Estuary English has spread so widely and so rapidly we have to appreciate that it is the result of two complementary trends. First, an improved standard of living for many people formerly living in London’s East End allowed them to move ‘up-market’ into the outer suburbs and the townships of the home counties of England’s south-east. As they began to interact with their new neighbours, their accents naturally accommodated to them. ‘Accommodation’ is the term sociolinguists use when talking about the way in which accents influence each other.
People from different accent backgrounds who are in good rapport will find features of their accents rubbing off on each other. In a case where people want to ‘fit in’ to a society that speaks in a different way, and where careers and success can depend on the incomers developing a good relationship with the incumbents, the direction of the accommodation is largely one-way. Thus, Eastenders began to adopt features of Essex or Kent or Hertfordshire speech, when they moved into those localities, rather than the other way round.
At the same time, people from counties further afield were commuting to London in increasing numbers, their travel facilitated by the new motorway system and faster rail connections. With cities such as Hull, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol now only a couple of hours away, huge numbers of people arrived in London with regional accents and soon found themselves accommodating to the accents of the city. It was now the Midlands and West Country commuters who adopted some of the London ways of speaking. And when these commuters returned home, they brought those London features back with them.
And thus the accent spread. Cutting across the Estuary English influence is an unknown set of other trends, all prompted by the increased mobility of the working and playing population. The BBC programme about Leicester showed some members of the family attending a biking convention elsewhere in the country. Bikers were there from many counties and presented a huge range of accents. When they talked to each other it was possible to hear their accents accommodating — often in a conscious and jocular way, as when one speaker mimicked another.
An individual short-term encounter of this kind is unlikely to have a long-term effect, of course, but in contexts where people routinely interact in this way, accent change is normal. And commuters, by definition, have routine. It is not that one accent replaces another. Rather, features of two accents combine to make a third. When an RP speaker is influenced by a regional accent, or vice versa, the result has been called ‘modified RP’, and there is modified Scouse, modified Geordie (the accent associated with the city of Newcastle), odified everything these days. I myself am a heavily modified speaker, using an accent which is a mixture of my original North Welsh (where I now live), Liverpool (where I spent my 32 Language developments in British English David Crystal 33 different from RP, but with a more staccato (‘syllable-timed’) rhythm. The accents have been controversially received, with some listeners finding them difficult to understand, some finding them unpleasant, some finding them quite attractive and some not noticing anything at all.
It remains to be seen whether the reactions to these accents will diminish as people become more familiar with them. Increasing familiarity there has to be, because the call-centre phenomenon is but a tiny part of a global trend towards the internationalisation of English which has been in progress since the mid twentieth century. It is now a truism to talk of English as a ‘global language’; but a less noticed consequence of this spread has been the growth of ‘new Englishes’ around the world, in countries which have adopted English as a local lingua franca and have adapted it to express their identity.
Alongside British English and American English, we now find Nigerian English, Singaporean English (‘Singlish’), Jamaican English and dozens of other varieties, distinguished primarily by vocabulary and pronunciation. Each country is developing its own norms, but one trend is widely heard: the development of syllable-timed speech, as opposed to the ‘stress-timed’ speech characteristic of traditional British accents.
Stress-timed speech takes place when the rhythmical beats fall at roughly regular intervals in the stream of speech, resulting in a ‘tum-te-tum’ rhythm widely heard in English poetry (‘The curfew tolls the knell of par ting day ’).
By contrast, in syllable-timed speech, each syllable carries a beat, so that the result is more like a ‘rat-a-tat-atat’. The voices of the Daleks in Dr Who (‘ex-ter-mi-nate’) were syllabletimed, as is a great deal of contemporary