English identity and ethnic diversity in the context of UK constitutional change
English identity and ethnic diversity in the context
of UK constitutional change
A presentation by Elliott Dillon, Catherine Smith & Zeyuan Liu
Changes in British Identity
Following the establishment of the Scottish
Parliament and National Assembly of Wales in 1999,
many believe this development of national
independence for these nations has hampered the
concept of a ‘British identity’.
This is because with Scotland and Wales having
more control over their nations politically, more of
their population now identify with their home
country rather than Britain.
What is it to be British?
There are a variety of definitions according to
different people in regards to being ‘British’ but the
general modern notion argues ‘being British’ is
‘multicultural, multiracial and multifaith’. This
leaves being British as a very open identity which
many people of entirely different backgrounds can
However, to be Welsh for example if a much more
closed identity as it tends to require a ‘shared
descent, history, culture and religion’, which people
cannot claim to be so simply.
Has being British changed over time?
Being British has long been seen as ‘unity in diversity’ –
viewed by many as a more moral and politically accepted
concept than cultural or racial essentialisms.
Therefore today, in our more tolerant politically sensitive
society, the notion of being ‘British’ is seen to be much more
popular and inclusive.
As a result, today’s multiculturalism can be seen as
‘progressive historical developments’ while ‘enduring moral
order’ by uniting people different backgrounds into one
shared identity in as shared society.
Between the Victorian era and up until the aftermath of the
WWII, the British identity was a homogenous one, but in
today’s multicultural society its developed into a much more
heterogeneous character, meaning diverse.
What’s become apparent in today’s society is that people
can have more than one identity, e.g. a Welshman can be
Welsh and British.
Furthermore, with the diversity in today’s society in
terms of race, religion, etc.; hyphenated identities have
formed, e.g. ‘Pakistani-Scot’.
However, interestingly the statistics show these
hyphenated identities are less common in England
compared to Scotland and Wales.
McCrone (2002) suggests this could be due to England’s
society being more ethnically exclusive, particularly
when statistics have shown a rise in people identifying
themselves as English.
Changes in people’s identities
Between 1997 and 1999, the percentage of people in
England who claimed to be ‘English not British rose from
7% to 17% - aiding this concept of people becoming more
nationalistic and relating less to the commonwealth of
The same survey also showed ethnic minorities rarely
selected the ‘English not British’ or ‘More English than
British’ options, yet more than a third selected the
‘British not English’ option.
This led to McCrone claiming that the term ‘English’ is
reserved largely for the white ‘natives’ – similar to an
‘ethnic’ identity that the non-white population feel
Changing Ethnic Identities
Joly (2001) claimed ‘all of us in this room were born
in England, and we’ve taken on English personalities’
– suggesting perhaps people don’t realise just how
‘English’ they are or have become.
The problems with the survey
People have so many ways to represent their English
identity: their place of birth, the blood, adoption of
English cultural practices, etc.
The actual definition of being ‘English’ or ‘British’ is
a disputed one, leaving people unsure of what they
QUALITATIVE INTERVIEW ACCOUNTS OF ENGLISH
IDENTITY AMONG YOUNG ADULTS OF PAKISTANI-ORIGIN
IN GREATER MANCHESTER
In this section, we focus on the different ways in
which english identity may be understood even
within A relatively restricted population.
Sample: Participants were 15 men and 20 women
aged 17–34 living in the Greater Manchester
Interviews: The interviews were generally
relatively informal and these topics tended to be
introduced in a conversational style.
Analytic techniques: All interview transcripts
were initially indexed for thematic content using
‘English’ as a racial and cultural referent
• Those respondents who did display a measure of
spontaneous concern over the distinction between the
terms English and British tended to have relatively
high levels of educational attainment or strong
• Unsurprisingly, when respondents presented a
rational justification for calling themselves British in
preference to English they often referred to the
different racial or cultural significations of the labels.
Even in these cases, however, there was a measure of
variation in how, precisely, this was formulated.
Ethnic Englishness and imagined
In such cases, the category ‘English’ was commonly used to
refer to the members and culture of the ‘white community’.
At the same time, however, respondents oriented to norms
promoting interpersonal contact and ‘mixing’ between
individual members of different ethnic communities in the
interests of the ‘community as a whole’.
This kind of construction of the local, the national and the
international spheres, as ‘communities of communities’ was
in turn associated with a normative injunction against
external attribution of responsibility and displays of
concern over the particular responsibility of members of
their own community to ‘make the first move’.
‘English’ as a territorial referent
respondents could also use the term as a
The term English, in contrast, is treated as a
reference to place (a country) rather than to polity,
and as such is cast as relatively socially
Flexibility in use of the label ‘English’
‘England’ is recast as an institution, which is in turn
elided with the singular will of the (by inference,
singular and homogenous) white ethnic majority,
defined precisely in opposition to the ‘black and
In the interview accounts, this kind of referent
flexibility was often reflected in a disparity between
the way in which a speaker reported describing
themselves in principle and their use of mundane
Flexibility in use of the label ‘English’
It was relatively common for a speaker who claimed
not to call themselves English as a matter of
principle to adopt an English national ‘we’ or ‘us’ in
the course of conversation. One reason for this shift
in orientation was that the speakers were often
interpreting the referent of the term English in
different ways in the two contexts.
When labelling self’s as an identity the decision people
made was seen to be associated with mainly political
However other members chose their label based on an
emotional relationship with local places. (There feeling of
In the survey it was found that many people did not
regard themselves as ‘English’ this was due to
commitments to faiths and religion.
It was also found that the label people placed on their
identity symbolized their generation. Developing a
westernised way of life people would regard themselves
There are many different definitions held when
looking at what it means to be british. The over view
of the definition is very open and allows the inclusive
of many people from different backgrounds,cultures
Due to the inclusion of so many within defining
what it is to be British, it is seen to bring people
together into one united society
More generally, analysis of everyday understandings
of national identity or the perceived boundaries of
social and political community may effectively
displace questions concerning social integration,
structural inequality, discrimination or oppression.
This is the case whether imagined as a culturally
diverse collection of individuals or a multiethnic
community of communities –
The question of how people understand themselves
and others in national terms and how they
understand them- selves and others as the subjects
and objects of democratic governance, are important
questions in their own right.
It is also important to recognize that ethnically
inclusive constructs of national identity – whether
English, Scottish, Welsh or British – by themselves
guarantee neither the absence of racist
discrimination nor the existence of effective social
integration or substantive ethnic equality.