British Identities Medialised - Annual Conference of the Society for the Study of British Cultures
With publications like Jeremy Paxman’s The English (2000), Kate Fox’s Watching the English (2004), or Mark Easton’s Britain, etc. (2012), the last decades have seen a conspicuous number of texts attempting to define and re-define Britishness in a changing world. This trend has been seen as indicative of a contemporary crisis of Britishness, of the need to re-define it in view of its changing status in the world brought about by the end of Empire. The process of devolution and the potential end of the United Kingdom in particular through Scottish independence or a potential Irish unification; continued economic difficulties which became particularly apparent with the 2008 financial crisis; new forms of immigration, which once more have changed the makeup of those living in the British Isles, all these developments have challenged ideas of national identities in the British Isles.
The Brexit referendum, which has been seen by many as being just as much about Britishness as about Europe (see e.g. Geoffrey Wheatcroft 21 June 2016, The Guardian), is another sign that identities in the British Isles continue to be a controversial topic. Thus, it is unsurprising that the years of the Brexit negotiations have seen another wave of books on Britishness including Robert Ford’s and Maria Sobolewska’s Brexitland (2020); or Peter Mitchell’s Imperial Nostalgia (2021). While Brexit was certainly of particular significance for renegotiating Britishness of late, other significant trends that challenge and redefine Britishness within an international and national context include the ‘Black Lives Matter’-movement, and the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’-initiative, revealing yet again the importance of individuals and their (hi-)stories for the definition of cultures (see Bingham 2010).
Most of these (re)constructions of national identity take place via different media forms, where they “drive as well as reflect” (McQuail 2010) present needs, political interests and topical events. Hence, the key focus of this conference will be on the particular relevance that media, but also specific media genres, have played and still play in the shaping of Britishness, but also Englishness, Scottishness, Welshness or Northern Irishness. Heritage movies like Howards End as they thrived in the conservative Thatcher years, the heritage industry, particularly as represented by the National Trust or English Heritage in the late 20th century, or modern definitions of Britishness, as presented in the comedy formats Muzlamic (BBC Three), Lady Parts (Channel 4) or Late Night Mash (Dave), all shape very different forms of Britishness, though some of them probably go against former Minister of State for Media and Data John Whittingdale’s new rules to protect and support “distinctively British” public service broadcasting (s. https:/
In this conference, then, we will examine how media shape the nation and construct different versions of national identities in the British Isles. While there will be a focus on present-day examples, we also welcome historic examples from a variety of media, such as statues, museums, history books, or memorial plaques.
Topics may include, but are not limited to a discussion of: