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What is in This Issue?

“Identity! Sometimes it makes my head hurt – sometimes my heart. So what am I? Where do I fit into Britain, 2000 and beyond?” Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy is not alone in raising this question. Identity is making the news in the UK, through books (‘The Death of Britain’, John Redwood, ‘The Abolition of Britain’, Peter Hitchens, ‘The English’, Jeremy Paxman, ‘England, England’, Julian Barnes ), radio (‘The Brits’, Gavin Esler, BBC); television (‘The Day Britain Died’, Andrew Marr, BBC and ‘The White Tribe’, Darcus Howe, Channel 4), and in the popular press (a report by the Runneymede Trust on The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, published in October 2000, caused an uproar because it suggested that the idea of Britishness carried ‘largely unspoken racial connotations’).

In this issue of the British Studies web pages we look at the facts and arguments behind the public debate.

The Facts and Figures section outlines the process and the implications of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as surveying some of the most important regional identities in the UK. Feature Articles go on to explore in more detail what impact devolution is having on the nations within the United Kingdom, and includes the reverberations for the English, with details of a major conference on ‘Looking into England’, hosted by the University of Warwick and the British Council. Two academic articles, The Untied Kingdom, and The End of the Affair, stand back and reflect on both the contemporary debate and it’s implications for Englishness and Britishness.

One consequence of what has been called national ‘navel gazing’ has been a renewed interest in trying to define the nation. As well as giving an outline of the reasons for this (Defining the Nation – Background), we suggest how some of these recent definitions might be used with students (Defining the Nation- a classroom activity). Our book reviews look at one entertaining example of the navel gazing genre, Jeremy Paxman’s ‘The English’, and provide a fascinating Polish perspective on the mythology of national identity in the analysis of ‘Scotland – The Brand’ (McCrone et al).

“When you look at family trees”, Andrea Levy reminds us, “anybody’s family tree, people’s individual histories, not the winner takes all history of nations – the question of identity becomes very complicated”. Her perspective on identity in This is My England, as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, born and bred in England, but not always accepted there, highlights some of the issues which multi-ethnic Britain must face. As Stuart Hall has said, ‘belonging is a tricky concept, requiring both identification and recognition’. The Nigerian-born Polish international footballer Olisabebe would probably agree with this.

Other influences on identity are shown in our cross-cultural survey, In Search of Identity, and the research paper, The Untied Kingdom. We also look at language, through dialect and accent (Mother Tongues), political correctness (To PC or Not to PC), idioms derived from names and nationalities (Mrs. A’s Diary), and the significance of names (What’s In a Name – a classroom discussion).

Our Quiz Corner provides practice on the vocabulary of devolution and constitutional change, reinforcement of the idioms from Mrs A’s Diary, and a light-hearted test of your ‘PCness’. There is also a competition for both teachers and learners, with fantastic prizes of courses in the UK for both. Finally, Beth Edginton’s article on The Cross-Cultural Construction of National Identity reflects on her ethnographic research in Poland, and proposes a new, radical approach to ethnography.

What emerges strongly from this issue is a sense of the pluralism, multiculturalism and multiple identities not only within societies, but also within individuals too. As Jan Karski, the Polish resistance hero from £ódŸ who died in July 2000 said, upon being made an honorary citizen of Israel in 1994:

“Now I, Jan Karski, a Pole, an American, a Catholic, have also become an Israelite. Gloria in excelsis Deo!”

As always we look forward to your comments and suggestions, hoping to hear your individual opinions as loudly as we have featured individual voices in this survey of identity.


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