Can the UK be described as a homogeneous society? The issue of cultural identities, and its effect. The United Kingdom, as its very name suggests, was initially conceived not as one homogeneous social group, but a strategic alliance of several such groups who perceived that they had more to gain by joining forces in union, than in remaining as separate…
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The rise of industrialization, with its drawing of people into slums in large towns and cities contributed to a new set of cultural distinctions based on class, and in turn on politics, with the emergence of Labour and Tory ideologies with their focus on the interests of working and middle classes respectively. These distinctions have been eroded, somewhat, with the rise of New Labour, and the dilemmas that all advanced capitalists states face when expansion no longer seems achievable or even appropriate. Class distinctions have shifted from the defining domain of work, to that of popular culture. The media feed multiple new sub-cultures, based on tastes in clothes, music, lifestyle, entertainment etc. The influence on the media on culture is, however , not without its problems. One effect is to cater for a highly commercialised product which is targeted at maximum coverage. This is so much commercial output is commodified to the point where it appears unoriginal. Recent empirical investigations of the actual perceptions of people in all regions of the UK, as opposed to popular myths suggest, however, that ancient assumptions about such distinctions as race and class may no longer hold in quite the way that people imagine. The idea, much vaunted by some, that the political culture in Scotland is fundamentally different than in England, for example, has turned out not to be well founded in fact: “despite all the very plausible reasons why Scots should be different, our comprehensive comparisons suggested far more similarity than difference between those who live in Scotland and those who live in the rest of Britain.” (Miller et al., 1996, p. 369) The strands of culture that divide people are no longer based so much upon indigenous peoples, but along grounds of class, politics, gender, religion and any number of other features. In his interesting analysis of the way government and politics have developed in Britain, John Kingdom traces the country’s journey in the last hundred years or so from being a force of world capitalism, governing an empire consisting of many colonies in far corners of the world, to its present position as a former colonial master, still dealing with the aftermath of empire, and failing to find a comfortable position in relation to the emerging consellation of powers on the European mainland. Concepts such as the once splendid “sceptered isle” (Kingdom, 2004, p. 87) and the “Rule Britannia” complacency of previous ages no longer apply in a world which is increasingly inter-connected. The process of globalisation changes the way that people relate to both space and time, bringing distant matters close, and speeding up all the communication and trading processes that underpin the world economy. John Kingdom points out that the United Kingdom can no longer take for granted a privileged position as driver of these changes, and is now entering into a period of decline. The geographical island situation which was once interpreted as a distinctive and ennobling feature, becomes something much more akin to isolation or even exclusion, as the British Prime minister recently discovered during European finance negotiations. In an entirely different domain, the transition from a position of dealing with
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