Evaluate the Claim That Britishness Is an Ethnic Construction

Topics: United Kingdom, Ethnic group, Nation Pages: 7 (1866 words) Published: October 24, 2012
rebecca O’Neill


Evaluate the claim that Britishness is an ethnic construction


The purpose of writing this paper is to analyze and evaluate the argument that ‘Britishness is an ethnic construction’ from the perspective of both its advocators and opponents. The discussion will include evidences that support the claim and also those who go against it in relation to the cultural and ethnic dimensions of britishness in order to provide a better understanding of the events and circumstances that have shaped the past and present of Britain and have led to the development of the identity of britishness.

Many sociologists have tried to define britishness in diverse ways. Some have defined it as a ‘mixture’ of races resulting in the emergence of a unique ‘British Race’ with distinguishing characteristics while others have termed it as ‘national character’ that encompasses national customs, traditions, norms and values, molded by historical and environmental factors (On the Meaning n.d.). Such definitions, however, are not sufficient and deep enough to give a complete explanation of what Britishness really is. Being a matter of perception, britishness has different meaning for different people, but the argument that it is merely a product of ethnic factors is quite debatable.

Ethnic groups are often viewed as homogenous, bounded entities with ethnic labels associated with them and referring their connection with a particular material culture. Those who view Britishness as an ethnic identity only argue that it is an unsolidified, diverse and mobile ethnic identity that began



to establish itself during the nineteenth century with British Monarchy. Concerns regarding religion, ethnicity and national identity have always been at the forefront of political and social debates in modern Britain. Sociologists and political analysts have discussed Britishness among ethnic minorities for many decades, sparked by popular intergroup events such as Rushdie Affair in 1989, Notting Hill in 1958, the Oldham Race riots of 2001 and numerous others.

Britishness often tend of get muddled with Englishness, and it is supposed to because there are no clear boundaries that separate Englishness with britishness. An authoritative answer can be a simple ground of differentiation that Englishness is the unique identity of people living in England while Britishness refers to custom values and traditions of Britain citizens (Betts 2007). Whichever definition we present of both the entities, it is clear that there is no clear boundary marking what we can call britishness and Englishness given that the individualistic nature of both the identities are quite similar in terms of ethnicity and social trends.

Although the sense of britishness is often considered as a construct of ethnicity, but is can be argued that race and ethnicity are not the only determinants of this national identity as geography, national symbols, political events and historic achievements, diversity, citizenship and immigration trends that have led to cultural diversity in Britain and have influenced the British culture in the realms of language, literature, arts, practices, habits and behaviors, are also equally important tools that have a fair share in shaping up the idea of britishness (Ethnos Research 2005).

Although the British Isles and distinctive topographic features like Scottish Highlands and rolling hills, have been subject to influences of conquest and immigration since before the era of Christianity, most anthropologists and sociologists studying and writing about developments of race



and ethnicity in the region restrain their historical contextualizing to the age following the second World War . The understandable reason for this confinement is that in this period only Britain saw huge numbers of non-white immigrants from different parts of the world. In fact, many diverse non-white...
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