Language/cultural planning in contemporary Britain:
self-fashioning or the fashioning of ethnic identity
Dr. Hassen Zriba/Higher Institute of Applied Studies in Humanities
University of Gafsa, Tunisia
مقال نشر في مجلة جيل العلوم الانسانية والاجتماعية العدد 50 الصفحة 139 .
This article investigates the history of the various strategies of assimilation that the contemporary British governments used in dealing with its ethnic minorities. It is suggested that the ideological and procedural “arsenal” of the 1950’, 1960’ and 1970’s politics of assimilationism was strategically substituted with a more comprehensive assimilatory approach of the 1980’s and 1990’ called “integrationist multiculturalism”. Culture/language planning played a paramount role in such “piecemeal social engineering project” (to use Karl Popper phrase). Yet, arguably, what seemed to be an official progressive recognition of the British ethnic minorities and their rights, through the celebration of their cultural differences and diversities, is in many respects, a firm process of cultural fossilization and stigmatization. Thus, the politics of multiculturalism is best understood as a strategy of socio-economic and political containment of the increasing ethnic militancy of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The article critically appraises the role of cultural and linguistic planning in shaping the ethnic cultural identities of the various British ethnic minorities with a particular focus on integration-related political and cultural discourses. It also argues that the politics of language planning are based on an erroneous conception of cultural identity as a fixed essentialized subject position throughout the various models of accommodating ethnic and cultural difference.
Keywords: Language planning, cultural planning, integration, identity.
I start with a brief account of the concept of cultural identity. This is because the concept of identity and that of culture are paramount in the arguments pushed in this work. The second part treats the possible encounters between the concept of cultural identity and that of language and language planning. I investigate the political, cultural and social outcomes resultant from such “cultural engineering” on minority socio-cultural groups. The last section of this article scrutinizes the cultural and linguistic politics adopted by the various British governments as strategies of integrating their ethnic and cultural minorities. A special focus will be laid on the role of English language learning in bestowing the British ethnic minorities with equal access to the British mainstream society and citizenship.
The elusive concept of cultural identity:
Cultural identity is a complex and elusive concept par excellence. The very stuff of defining the concept is demanding and precarious. Identity has been a very tricky and multi-semiotic concept. It seems that the way of defining the concept is constitutive of the concept itself. Virtually, the over-use of and over-research on this concept rendered it quite redundant. It has arguably become an all-inclusive concept that includes everything and excludes nothing. This over-generalist nature of the concept seems to destroy its very usefulness as an analytical concept. However, the concept of identity is closely related to that of culture. Identity is expressed in various cultural forms, and culture is in many respects constitutive of identity. Cultural identity has come to the fore as vital for any social or political community. Hence, the concept of cultural identity has been approached from different perspectives.
The British cultural critic Stuart Hall has identified two central definitions of cultural identity. The first understanding believes that cultural identity is a shared collective culture. This definition stresses the commonality of the shared experiences of a given cultural or ethnic group. In this perspective, different groups share a common cultural identity that reflects the historical and cultural affinities within a certain ethnic group. Thus, despite the conspicuous differences and diversities that such group generates, this common cultural identity is the ultimate source of unity: a hidden or latent unity. It represents the essence of such cultural community that differentiates it from other groups. This is the meaning that seems hegemonic when we refer to, say, the British identity, American identity, or Indian identity. We construct a somewhat homogenous block or framework of reference that ultimately serves to entrench specific cultural traits related to a cultural group. Hall emphasizes that this conception of cultural identity has been cherished by those working within the postcolonial theory. Postcolonial writers tend to highlight the collective and shared character of cultural identity which guarantees an acceptable degree of group cohesion or unity. Postcolonial writers seem to search for such “valuable” cultural identity to second their theses of cultural unity and distinctiveness. Such version of cultural identity, Hall contends, “continues to be a very powerful and creative force in emergent forms of representation amongst hitherto marginalized peoples” (Hall, 1989). Hall quotes the popular postcolonial cultural theorist Frantz Fanon in reference to this version of cultural identity. Within postcolonial communities, the rediscovery or even the creation of such identity is object of “passionate research…directed by the secret hope of discovering beyond the misery of today, beyond self-contempt, resignation and abjuration, some very beautiful and splendid era whose existence rehabilitates us both in regard to ourselves and in regard to others” (Fanon in Hall, 1989: 69).
Yet, the issue of the re-discovery of cultural identity is not that tenable. I believe that there are no constitutive essences of what an identity is or what it means. The process is best seen as one of invention rather than discovery. Following the premises of the social constructivist perspective, we may safely argue that identity is a socio-cultural construction that meets the needs of a given social or cultural communities. Just like Benedict Anderson (1983) who believed that nations are imagined communities, I consider cultural identities as imagined identities as well. This imagined-ness allows the construction of different cultural identities by different social agents to serve different aims. It also stresses the fact that identity formation or identification is a dynamic rather than a static process. Thus identity is a process not an event or a pre-given entity. Hall elegantly commented on this transformative nature of cultural identity. He contended that
Actually identities are about questions of using the resources of history, language and culture in the process of becoming rather than being: not ‘who we are’ or ‘where we came from’, so much as what we might become, how we have been represented and how that bears on how we might represent ourselves (1996: 4 emphasis is mine).
What Hall and other social constructionist theorists seem to emphasize is that cultural identity is a dynamic process but not an essentialist one. This bestows the concept with considerable flexibility and adaptability; two aspects that every cultural community needs to create social and cultural coherence while preserving a constant mechanism of self- identification and self-fashioning. In this vital process of cultural identity formation, language looms large as a major player in the field of the conceptualization of identity. I will explore the relationship between the concept of language and that of identity in more details in the subsequent section. Now it suffices to evince that no identity is realizable without a system of communication and representation where language is absolutely indispensible. The differential realization of identity and its multiple colors paves the way for the second understanding of the concept of cultural identity. I briefly explain it below.
The second conceptualization of identity is the most salient one within postmodernist theory. It argues that identity is rather the cultural and ideological work of the discovery and creation of difference. Thus identity is positional and situational since it is the end product of historical as well as relational experiences. It is neither essentialist nor fixed; it is rather positional and strategic.
In this context, identity is governed by the rules of change and transformation that result from a continuous contrast with someone else’s identity. It is the work of difference; the politics of difference. So, cultural identity is always a provisional and instable effect of marking differences. It is a negative construction rather than a positive one. By negativity, I mean that cultural identity is defined with what it is not more than being the outcome of what it is. Hall argues that “Identity is a structured representation which only achieves its positive through the narrow eye of the negative. It has to go through the eye of the needle of the other before it can construct itself” (1991:21). Consequently, the “[O]ther” has a crucial part in the social and cultural construction of the “I”. The project of construction is a bilateral one that succeeds only by the concerted efforts of both the insiders and the outsiders. This collective and reciprocal enactment of identity would result in the creation of a multiple, fractured and multidimensional concept of cultural identity. Social agents perform different subject positions in their social structures. This depends on the different affiliations that they may privilege at different times and in different socio-cultural contexts. Being context-governed, people are identities bearers. They do not have a single identity. Jay Lemke observes:
we are always ourselves, but who we are, who we portray ourselves as being, who we are construed as being changes with interactants and settings, with age of life. Identities develop and change, they are at least multi-faceted if not in fact plural. Their consistency and continuity are our constructions, mandated by our cultural notions of the kinds of selves that are normal and abnormal in our community, (2008: 19).
To recapitulate, cultural identities are positional and dynamic. They are equally multifaceted and socially constructed. Social identities are multiple and collective, and while individual identity is personal and stresses sameness, social identity is rather the marker and marker of difference. As seen before, socio-cultural identity is constructed against a real or imagined other. According to Bucholtz and Hall (2004),
social grouping is a process not merely of discovering or acknowledging a similarity that precedes and establishes identity but, more fundamentally, of inventing similarity by downplaying difference. […] The perception of shared identity often requires as its foil a sense of alterity, of an Other who can be positioned against those socially constituted as the same. (p. 371)
It is the aspect of the social constructed and invented nature of the concept of cultural identity that allowed considerable socio-cultural and political engineering. Such engineering was initiated by various British academic and political circles under the umbrella of the politics of ethnic integration. Whether, the preferred model of integration was assimilationist (monoculturalist) or pluralist (multiculturalist), different values and principles have been cast as constitutive of the British national identity. One fundamental aspect of such Britishness has been English language.
Cultural identity and the politics of language planning:
Even though a multicultural state attempts to create an egalitarian framework in which all cultures are treated equally, there is a tendency to prioritize one at the expense of others. The state may prohibit racial discrimination and race-related marginalization. It may equally avoid the establishment of an official religious system. However, multicultural states cannot be neutral when language-related matters are under consideration. The multicultural state will necessarily establish one specific language as the dominant means of communication in schooling and in its delivery of public services. The linguistic preference, whether unintentional or intentional, would translate into cultural, political and economic disequilibrium in the relations of power between the different cultures constitutive of a given polity. After all, language is considered as a paradigmatic marker of culture. Moreover, language/cultural planning has a symbolic dimension. It is a symbolic organization of the social and cultural aspects of society. The culture or language that is projected as dominant publically will empower its speakers and holders and constrain others. A crucial question needs to be tackled whenever language or identity is under scrutiny. Here it is: Why is language so central to identity? A possible answer was forwarded by the British socio-linguist John Edwards in his masterpiece Language and Identity (2009). In the introduction of his book Edwards commented that “identity is at the heart of the person, and the group, and the connective tissue that links them. People need psychosocial ‘anchors': it is as simple as that” (Edwards, 2009, p. 2). It seems that identity is the socio-cultural glue that gives any community its raison d’être. Thus, identity is an individual need; a need of belonging to a certain social and cultural community. But also, identity is a collective need when it is attached to culture. Edwards adds that it “is also clear that identities very rarely exist singly: on the contrary, we all possess a number of identities – or facets of one overarching identity, if you prefer – the salience of which can be expected to wax and wane according to circumstance and context.(2009: 2). Identities are the product of various social and cultural subject positions and structures. The close relationship between identity and language urged social theorists like John Joseph (2004) to argue that no study of language is possible without the study of identity. Joseph (2004) observed that
[A]ny study of language needs to take consideration of identity if it is to be full and rich and meaningful, because identity is itself at the very heart of what language is about, how it operates, why and how it came into existence and evolved as it did, how it is learned and how it is used, every day, by every user, every time it is used. (p. 224)
I agree with Joseph on the centrality of language in understanding identity, but I add that no study of identity is complete without the consideration of language and culture. As I mentioned elsewhere, I take culture and language to be identical given the integral relation between the two concepts. I briefly consider the theoretical trajectories of both language and culture. The popular anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1973) defines culture as “an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life”. (p. 89). This very definition can be easily applied to the definition of language itself. Thus, language is also a system of communication that is pregnant with symbols, knowledge and worldviews. I perceive the relation between the two concepts as a content (culture) and container (language). They are virtually inseparable. The relationship between language and culture has been the concern of numerous studies both in anthropology; cultural studies ad language studies (Edwards, 2009 and Joseph, 2004). Language is the ultimate and the most crucial human invention. Robert Bunge (1992) notes that “language is not just another thing we do as humans – it is the thing we do. It is a total environment: we live in language as a fish lives in water” (p. 376). Hence, language is vital to cultural expressions and cultural formations. Language planning is also cultural planning that is intended to serve a number of social and political aims. This emanates, I think, from the close relations between language and culture.
The representations, perceptions and cultural beliefs or values of any human society are encoded in the language itself. For Joshua A. Fishman (1991), language is always linked to a given ethno-culture which makes such alliance (culture and language) vital in formulating and expressing the worldviews of that culture. This intimate and intricate link, conceived between language and culture, implies that the ethnic identity is only expressible with/within a certain linguistic and cultural system of a given ethnic community. After all, humans are linguistic and cultural beings. Hence, the concept of “languaculture” has gained plausible currency in sociology, linguistics, anthropology and cultural studies as a concept that encompasses the close relations between language and culture. (Agar, M. 1991 and Risager, K., 2005).
Clearly, language and culture are intricately related and inter-dependent. Language is constituted by culture, while culture is influenced by language. Understanding the nature of the possible relations between language and culture is vital in the process of learning another language and mastering another culture. As such language is not a mere tool for the exchange of information, but it is a symbolic system with the discursive power to create and shape symbolic realities. These realities may include different values, perceptions and above all identities. The process of identity creation is organized around the concept of discourse and the practice of discursive formation. Language, being the system of symbolic creation and representation of culture, is essential to cultural identity. People seem to live with and in languages. Thus, as far as minority groups are concerned, different ethnic and cultural communities while integrating into the mainstream culture of the destination society keep using their mother tongue. This linguistic choice is represented as an act of cultural identification and resistance of the cultural and linguistic hegemony of the host society. Also, national minorities such as aboriginal communities in countries like Canada and Australia or Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, tend to preserve their native cultural system mainly via the use of their national languages. Language turns out to be an act of identity assertion in multicultural, multiethnic and multinational societies. Moreover, linguistic differences are also often considered as the marker and maker of another culture. Ethnic and cultural communities shape their distinctive identities via the use of their specific languages within a multi-linguistic framework.
In their crucial book Raciolinguistics: how language shapes our ideas about race, the anthropologist Samy Alim et al (2016) investigate the intricate relationship between language, racial identity and power distribution. In this book, Alim examines how language shaped racial identity and vice versa. He took the example of the ex-American president Barack Obama as a critical case study. According to his arguments, Obama was switching from one linguistic variety to another in his public political speech to meet the expectations of his diverse audiences. He tended to use a “black preacher style” when addressing black audiences while using normal standard English in his speech directed to the general American audiences. These multilayered strategies are the outcome of the specific cultural and racial nature of the ex-American president Barack Obama. Obama was caught between different sources of identifications which he needed to balance against each other so that to make his electorate fell comfortable as much as possible. He wanted to appear as the normal American citizen. Samy Alim thought that Obama “was caught between discriminatory discourses of race, language, citizenship and religion, and he needed to navigate between them in order to not be seen as “the African, Muslim boogeyman” that the far right made him out to be. Language and race work together here in very important ways.”(2016).
This alliance between language and race has been approached in what came to be called Raciolinguistics; a new field of linguistic and racial studies that investigates the crucial intersections between race, langue, identity and power. From a Raciolinguistic perspective, American society, based on the case study of Obama, was far from being post-racial. It was proved to be hyper-racial and hyper-racializing. Then, it follows that language plays a crucial role in the constitution of group consciousness and the sympbolization of collective cultural and ethnic identity. Obama was then planning his speeches to meet some specific cultural and political aims. There was a considerable language and cultural planning in his linguistic performances.
I briefly account for the major components and processes included in the discourses and politics of language/culture planning. Language planning policy is what a government does officially through legislation to determine how languages are used and which ones are to be hegemonic in the public political sphere. Thus governments cultivate and promote the language skills needed to meet national priorities and mainstream cultural paradigms.
In general, language planning is a process designed to affect language use within a particular speech community. Language/ culture planning is usually undertaken by the government and the official relevant agencies. A central argument of this article is that the discursive construction of the cultural ethnic identity is to be understood as part of language planning. Language and cultural planning is thus a process of identity management in which the presentation of cultural identity is filtered through the various mechanisms of representation and articulation.
Relevant research has outlined four varieties of planning. Those planning strategies include:
1) Status planning: Where the government considers the environment in which language/culture is used, e.g. which language is the ‘official language’ of the polity; the status of the language. What is under focus are the place and functions of a given language.
2) Corpus planning: This most vital strategy where the process of modifying or imposing particular versions of linguistic and cultural views is actively pursued. Technically, the focus is on language structures such as morphological, syntactic, and semantic structures.
3) Acquisition planning: This is perhaps the most crucial step of the entire process of language/culture planning. It is the moment when the whole cultural, ideological and political repertoires are put into action. Acquisition planning is thus concerned with language distribution, which can involve providing opportunities to use a particular language to increase the number of its users. Importantly, this process of a language promotion is often associated with a less visible one of demoting another. The acquisition planning controls language spread and growth which are two ideological operations par excellence.
4) Prestige planning: Acquisition planning step would automatically alter and/or promote the image of a language at the expense of others. There is an underway cultural, political and social construction of a “prestige” of a language (Kaplan and Baldauf, 1997 and Spolsky, 2004). In the case of Britain, English language seems to enjoy such hegemonic prestige with some differentiated extents according to the dominant integration paradigm of the day. For instance, the hegemony of the English language during the assimilationist era was absolute compared to its position during the multicultural period. I will refer to those varieties in my scrutiny of the relationship between language/culture planning and the various models of integration that post-war Britain has witnessed.
The political engineering of cultural identity: case study British ethnic identities
The British national identity or Britishness has been the organizing discursive formation and rhetoric of how the British polity treated its ethnic and cultural minorities. The central aim was how to integrate the different cultural and ethnic structures into a unique and cohesive British socio-cultural fabric. Different approaches of integration have been applied to cope with the multi-ethnic character of post-war Britain. In this process of self-definition and other integration, the English language has played a pivotal decisive role. The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed the need to consider English language as constitutive of the meaning of the national identity, being a source of unity and cultural identification. In 2006, as part of his ‘Our Nation’s Future’ speeches, the New Labour leader Blair firmly placed the English language at the very heart and essence of the Britain’s national identity. He declared that
We should share a common language. Equal opportunity for all groups requires that they be conversant in that common language. It is a matter both of cohesion and of justice that we should set the use of English as a condition of citizenship. In addition, for those who wish to take up residence permanently in the UK, we will include a requirement to pass an English test before such permanent residency is granted (Blair 2006).
Hence, it seems that language is a fundamental aspect or value of the British national identity. It is equally a gatekeeper of the citizenship rights and responsibilities. Blair was not by any means unique in celebrating English language as a prerequisite to obtain the British citizenship and uphold the British identity. This type of discourse has always been ubiquitous either explicitly or implicitly in the various approaches of integrating the new immigrant and ethnic minorities.
Theoretically speaking, two major paradigms of integrating ethnic minorities into the mainstream societies have been identified by different political scientists and cultural critics. Those different models are roughly categorized into a monocultural approach or alternatively called the assimilationist model, and another multicultural approach or pluralist model. However, my ethnographic analysis of the British race-related history could be methodologically divided into three major historical moments. The first era extends during the 1940’s and the 1960’ which was largely dominated by what can be termed racial laissez faire politics. We could call it assimilationist era as well. The second period covers the 1970’, the 1980’s and the 1990’s during which the politics of multiculturalism and ethnic pluralism were championed. The last one took shape during the 2000’s till the 2010’s. This last period can be named integrationist model where an intricate balance social cohesion and cultural diversity has been sought. Importantly, the politics of language and cultural planning has always been present with different paces and depths.
I account for the major principles and discourses of those broad race-related approaches in the following few paragraphs. Yet it is important to notice that within the British context, different variants of those approaches were used in different historical moments though intersections between them were also noticed (Parekh, 1998).
The immediate post-war era witnessed the emergence of what can be termed the racial consensus which was based on some fundamental theoretical conceptions largely derived from the teachings of the Chicago School of sociology in America. The underlying explanatory assumption is that the immigrants were bearers of alien cultures and they may disturb the serenity and stability of the host community. However, given enough time and tolerance, they will assimilate into the socio-cultural fabric of the destination culture and socio-cultural order is finally restored. Within the British context, such ideological convictions were largely governed by economic considerations. Immigrant minorities, largely South Asians, came to Britain as an economic necessity to contribute to the reconstruction plans after the war. Christina Julios (2008) argued that such era was characterized by what could be termed the racial laissez faire politics the aim of which was to keep the status quo. As explained earlier, such race-related policies were built on a deep assumption that assimilation of immigrants will ensue naturally with no need for any substantial interventionism. In that project, the mainstream British language and culture were depicted as the norm while those of new comers were seen as a deviation. Hence, Britishness was not an urgent issue since Englishness was constructed as the essence of the British national identity; Englishness with a very emphasis on English culture and language. In fact, the British national identity was conceived as secure since it indulged in the different colonial and imperial discourses of supremacy and Eurocentrism. That was a legacy of the days of the Empire par excellence. The British people felt no need to identify and define their identity since they underestimated the ethnic and cultural challenges posed by the early pre- and immediate post-WWII war immigration. It seems that the British knew who they were. The former Conservative leader Lord Norman Tebbit articulated such general “structure of feeling” when he affirmed that ‘Nobody used to talk about Britishness in the 1940s and 1950s, it is a phenomenon of large numbers of non-British people coming into the country’ (BBC News 2002). Political and cultural institutions like the unwritten constitution, the two houses of the Parliament and the Monarchy were regarded as the very essence of what it means to be a British. Paul Ward confirmed that:
Between 1876, when Disraeli gave Queen Victoria the title of Empress of India, and 1953, the monarchy was fundamentally entwined with the idea and reality of the British Empire. They were seen together as forming two basic foundations upon which Britishness could be built … The coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953, after the loss of India from Empire (though not from the Commonwealth), continued to link monarch to Empire … The monarchy was seen as a device to maintain the loyalty of the dominions and colonies ( 2004: 14).
It follows that the institution of the Monarchy is a symbol of unity not only within Great Britain but also within the Empire. The immigrants, who came to Britain immediately after the end of the Second World War, were in fact joining their fellow subjects in their collective “Mother Country” Britain. However, those newcomers were not welcomed culturally though they were perceived as an economic necessity to contribute to the realization of the reconstruction plans. They were subject to hostile sentiments and their needs were ignored. According to Christina Julios (2008) “Those who were allowed to settle in Britain were largely expected to learn the English language, adapt to the country’s customs and become part of British society’s everyday life » (2008 : 16). The Assimilationist discourses were hegemonic and the comparatively insignificant number of immigrants was no real challenge to the Anglo-Saxon Christian White British population. Thus, it was believed that the immigrants had no alternative but to assimilate. Yet, in response to the increasing number of immigrants and the general public malaise, the British governments of the day sought to curb the number of immigrants as much as possible. In 1962 a new Commonwealth Immigrants Act was introduced which marked a serious official attempt to manage immigration and limit the conventional immigration-related open door policy. This act was to realize three basic objectives: to control unbridled immigration, to legalize the deportation from the United Kingdom of certain Commonwealth citizens convicted of legal offences, and to impose new qualifications required of Commonwealth citizens in order to become British citizens (Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, Chapter 21, 1). Yet, 14 years earlier, an important act was introduced which delineated the required aspects of those who can claim the British citizenship and enjoy its benefits. That act was named the British Nationality Act of 1948. Noticeably, the act stressed the need to master English language and to comprehend English culture in order to grant citizenship to the new immigrants. Equally, newcomers must swear an oath of allegiance to ‘His Majesty King George the Sixth His Heirs and Successors’ (British Nationality Act 1948, second schedules, quoted in Julios, 2008: 87). The cultural, linguistic and political planning was intended to assimilate “alien” ethnic minorities within the mainstream definition of culture. Immigrants needed to assimilate into the mainstream socio-cultural fabric and immerse their identities in the hegemonic white identity. The task of educating new immigrants and their children how to become British and assimilate into the British culture was carried out by the British educational discourses. The Education Act or Butler Act 1944 was a step in the acculturation process. Education being a major socializing tool, helped in immersing the immigrants into the mainstream cultural identity.
Though the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was a crucial step in controlling immigration, the earlier Education Act or Butler Act 1944 was in many respects the most spectacular embodiment of the politics of language and cultural planning geared to assimilatory targets. Without delving into the details of the act, it was regarded as fundamental in the British public education. Yet as far as new immigrants are concerned, the Act was a clear instance of the Laissez faire race-related ideology of the day. It paid no special consideration to the specific needs of the newcomers. Newcomers were simply expected to assimilate through learning the dominant language and adopt the dominant culture. Although the act stated in detail the education-related policies of the government, it paid no attention to the educational needs of the British ethnic minorities. Perhaps, that is a clear expression of the strategy of avoidance or negligence which the British governments adopted during the heydays of assimilationism. In general, theories of cultural deficiency postulated that the educational underachievement of ethnic minorities was mainly the outcome of their cultural incompatibility with the British educational system in particular and the British culture in general. The perceived “backward” and rural character of the countries of origin was represented as the dominant factor in the explanation of the educational failures of ethnic minorities. The same assumption was invoked in almost explaining every aspect of the lives and performances of ethnic minorities (Gillborn, 1990 and Tomlinson, 1984). In education, the followed approach was assimilatory the aim of which was to adapt the ethnic pupils to the dominant cultural patterns that were thought to offer them social and economic mobility. Yet, the overall pattern was to delineate those immigrant pupils as a problem or a burden that needed a solution. In general, the new immigrants were thus met with increasing hostility and antagonism from the white British population. Christina Julios wrote that
Those who succeeded in overcoming such barriers to entry were largely expected to master the English language, embrace British customs and quickly become immersed into society’s everyday life. Adequate educational and social support was, nevertheless, not forthcoming. After all, this was a predominantly English-speaking white Anglo-Saxon British society whose public discourse was ultimately geared towards the preservation of the status quo. (2008: 90).
With the increasing number of the immigrants and their rising visibilities and demands, laissez faire policies and avoidance strategies were no longer possible. A new model of integration took place which could be termed the multicultural or cultural pluralist model.
The racial consensus moved from the politics of assimilationism described above to opt for those of cultural pluralism or multiculturalism. The new consensus aimed at integrating the British ethnic minorities by recognizing their cultural systems and socio-political rights in order to lessen their increasing radicalism. The post-war racial politics of laissez faire seemed to reach its end by the onset of the 1970’ with the increasing number of ethnic minorities and their offspring in Britain. The third generation of the newcomers considered themselves as full British and sought the benefits of the British citizenship. They were less ready to accept the position of second class citizens as their parents did. They organized themselves into anti-racist movements to fight against what they perceived as the racism of the white majority, but equally to churn out and resist the mechanism of the less visible and acknowledged “institutional racism”. In many respects, antiracism generated multicultural politics.
However, the antiracist movement was the outcome of a number of interrelated but complex factors the common threads between which are racial discrimination and marginalization. The various legislative acts that were introduced during the assimilationist phase culminated into the emergence of ethnic resistance movements. Anti-racist movements like Rock Against Racism (RAR) and Anti Nazi League (ANL) stressed the cultural dimensions of racism and discrimination. They represented a new development in the anti-racist movements since they moved “beyond the confines of the formal politics into the realm of popular discourses, and because each articulates in a different way with a class politics” (Gilroy, 1987: 128). Unlike the precedent movements and organizations like the Coordinating Committee Against Racial Discrimination (CCARD) and the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD), which were reactions against racism within the legal and political frameworks, Rock Against Racism (RAR) and Anti Nazi League (ANL) expressed the new “structure of feeling” of the 1970’s that stressed the importance of popular culture as a powerful force of resistance. Equally, the Rock Against Racism (RAR) and the Anti Nazi League (ANL) were virtually considered as the spokesmen of the ethnic youth: the second and the third generations of ethnic populations. That is crucial, I believe, since those new generations considered themselves as full British citizens not sojourners as their ancestors used to think. The two movements had additional importance as they represented a defense line against the racist political movements the most important of which was the National Front with its racist journal Spearhead. The Rock Against Racism (RAR), for instance, employed musical discourses to mobilize and radicalize ethnic minorities to fight for their right. The movement’s issue of its magazine Temporary Hoarding (1977) publically articulated such anti-racist overtones. It went as follows:
We want Rebel music, Street music. Music that breaks down peoples’ fear of one another. Crisis music. Now music. Music that knows who the real enemy is. Rock against Racism. Love Music Hate Racism (quoted in Gilroy, 1987: pp132-133).
This type of militant discourses could be historically understood when situated within a largely anti-immigrants’ hostile context. Enoch Powell’s 1968 speech in which he predicted “rivers of blood” if black immigration persisted was a leading racist and anti-immigrant discourse which indulged into nationalist utopian discourses and constructed the British identity as a pure, monolithic and ahistorical one. His speech represented immigrants and their offspring as a problem and a threat to Britishness and the British polity in general. Aided with the nationalistic media, the immigrants were depicted as “unprincipled scroungers and muggers” (Husband, 1982: 161). Those racist discourses coupled with the socio-economic and political marginalization ushered into a new escalation of ethnic and anti-racist resistance. The 1980’s witnessed a number of race riots that took place in the mostly deprived inner British cities. For instance, the Brixton riots of 1981 in London rendered such ethnic disadvantage publicly visible and hence politically recognized. Despite the various interpretations of the events (Mason, 2000)-being, for example, the pure product of criminality-, there was an increasing tendency to consider them as legitimate reactions against the racist and discriminatory propensities of both the British state and the British society. As lord Scarman and his subsequent official report (the Scarman Report) noticed, the riots could be read as a logic and natural outcome of the economic and social deprivation in the British inner cities where the overall majorities of the British ethnic population resides (Scarman,1981). I consider that the Brixton events were a turning point in the history of the British politics of integrating ethnic minorities. They marked the apex of ethnic radicalism and militancy. Also, the riots challenged the color-blind socio-economic policies that were pursued during the assimilationist era; there was no room for more laissez faire racial politics of the immediate post-war Britain and after. Moreover, the events signaled the onset of what came to be called multicultural politics in Britain and the end of the long established assimilationist model of integration. As Gillborn explained: “The cultural variety, social cohesion and active resistance of ethnic minority groups ensured the failure of the “flattening process” [embodied in the assimilationist ideal-DM]” (1990: 147).
The concept of multiculturalism- whether a lived experience or a political ideology- has been defined differently by different authors and theorists. However, generally, multiculturalism entails the recognition and appreciation of cultural diversity. It also demands for the official consideration of ethnic minorities’ cultural systems beyond the traditional politics of tolerance. Multiculturalism is not simply a question of tolerance but fundamentally one of recognition (Taylor, 1994). Without delving into the large literature on multiculturalism and multicultural politics, the idea of multiculturalism is dedicated to the possible (maybe best) ways to understand and respond to the cultural and religious challenges associated with diverse ethnic minorities. The word has often been used in its descriptive dimension to churn out aspects of cultural and ethnic diversities in multicultural societies like Britain. However, we need to appraise its prescriptive dimension as well. Since it is this prescriptive aspect that turns multiculturalism into an ideological and political concept rather that a social and cultural one. As stated earlier, multiculturalism is concerned mainly with the politics of recognition. Yet what is to be recognized is the most crucial aspect of multiculturalism. It has been widely argued that multiculturalism is closely linked to the “politics of identity” and those of “difference” (Gutmann 2003, Taylor, 1994 and Young 1990). Hence, multiculturalism is concerned with identity and difference management in which culture and language play paramount roles. To a considerable extent, multiculturalism is another dimension/extension of multilingualism and vice versa. As Sarah Song argued “language and religion are at the heart of many claims for cultural accommodation by immigrants” (Song, 2017). So issues of language and cultural planning are prime in the new multicultural settlement. The British ethnic minorities asked for the recognition and promotion of their cultures and languages. Now, the British authorities seemed to move from the language planning paradigm to the “multi-language” planning one. However, based on my analysis of the developing multicultural discourses in contemporary Britain, this process of planning has become a multilateral process in which ethnic minorities themselves had a crucial say.
To this end, the 1985 Swann Report was a fundamental document in reflecting and constructing the new multicultural character of 1980’s Britain. The lengthy report (more than 800 pages) investigated the educational conditions of namely ethnic pupils within the British educational system. The report worked within the ideological assumptions that Britain was no longer a pure mono-cultural and mono-linguistic community. Accordingly, the British authorities had to take this novel situation into account when designing educational curricula. Interestingly, the report suggested that the educational underachievement of non English-speaking ethnic pupils was the outcome of a cultural and linguistic planning that was adopted by the British governments during the assimilationist era. The report stated that
Recognising the contribution of schools in preparing all pupils for life in a society which is both multi-racial and culturally diverse, the Committee is required to review, in relation to schools, the educational needs and attainments of children from ethnic minority groups, taking account, as necessary, of factors outside the formal education system relevant to school performance, including influences in early childhood and prospects for school leavers (DES 1985, para. 2, p. vii).
Therefore, the Swann Report considered linguistic diversity as positive and as a cultural “asset” that multicultural Britain had to valorize. That happens by rendering the British educational system multicultural and responsive to the specific needs of its various ethnic, cultural, religious and social minorities. ‘Education for All’ was the emblem of the report which echoed the British multicultural slogan “inclusion for all, exclusion for none”. As such, both minorities and majorities were expected to benefit from the vision and recommendation of the Swann Report.
The report firmly argues that
In our view, ‘Education for All’ should involve more than learning more about the cultures and lifestyles of various ethnic groups; it should also seek to develop in all pupils, both ethnic majority and minority, a flexibility of mind and an ability to analyse critically and rationally the nature of British society today within a global context. The reality of British society now and in the future, is that a variety of ethnic groups, with their own distinct lifestyles and value systems will be living together (DES 1985, para. 2.7, 324).
To secure a successful education to the children of ethnic minorities, the report suggests that English language has to be taught as a second language to those ethnic pupils. This entails that their first language is to be respected and valorized within the novel multicultural approach. Again, language planning is opted for as a strategy to encourage ethnic minorities’ cultures. Yet, English is constructed as the major language whose mastery is a necessity to benefit from the belonging to the British community and enjoy the advantages of the British citizenship.
Significantly, the Swann Report was engaged to not only the acknowledgement of the multicultural nature of Britain, but equally it demanded that the British people embrace and promote such multiculturalism. The report turns out, I believe, to be constitutive more than descriptive of the British multicultural character. According to the discourses of the report such public embracement can take place only when cultural and linguistic needs of ethnic minorities are adequately met. Thus, it seems that this report is concerned primarily to change behaviour and attitudes. They need to change throughout Britain, and while the education system must not be expected to carry the whole of the burden of that change, schools in particular are uniquely well placed to take a lead role. Britain has evolved, over many centuries, institutions and traditions which, whatever their shortcomings, have been taken as models by many nations, and were indeed an important part of the attraction of this country to the ethnic minorities who are the essential concern of our report. It is because we believe that everyone in Britain has a direct interest in ensuring that those institutions and the attitudes, which inform them, change to take full account of the pluralism, which is now, a marked feature of British life, that we make our recommendations (DES 1985, para. 1.1, 767).
Such far-reaching and utopian discourses of the Swann Report made it a milestone in the emergence of the multicultural politics in Britain. It celebrated the multicultural components of the official British educational curricula and asked for their existence when they are missing. The Swann Report‘s ideological discursive formations contributed to coloring the recommendations of the Education Reform Act (ERA) of 1988. The Education Reform Act continued within the same line of thought and provided more ethnicity-friendly procedures. Language was pivotal to the ideological constructions of the act. In important ways, the act, though working within the multicultural framework, gave special prominence to the teaching and learning of English language (Julios, 2008). My quantitative analysis of the act showed the words “English” and “English language” were used just twice in an act of 302 pages. Yet, it was clear that English language was depicted as the norm while other languages were represented as additional linguistic competences that can benefit in raising cultural awareness and sensitivity. By and large, it was evident that multiculturalism gathered momentum during the 1980’s and 1990’s. For instance, the New Labour Government under Tony Blair made multicultural education its priority and an Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant was issued in 1999 to take the needs of ethnic minorities’ pupils into account. Yet, notably, there seemed to be a systematic distinction between the public sphere and the private one within the multicultural paradigm. This distinction harmed cultural and ethnic minorities who were expected to go multicultural privately and comply with the socio-political and even cultural norms of the majority in public. The language and cultural planning that seeks to maintain a strict divide between the public and private spheres in cultural pluralist models of ethnic integration may result in promoting the hegemony of a certain linguistic and cultural community at the expense of the less advantaged ones. As suggested above, such divide is likely to severely hamper the natural development of ethnic minorities. Parekh stated one important observation of the cultural and social impact that lingua-cultural planning may have on different generations of the British ethnic population. I quote him in length below to decipher the pertinence of such testimony. Parekh stated:
A couple of years ago when I was travelling by train from London to Hull, I was sitting opposite an elderly Pakistani couple and next to their adolescent daughter. When the crowded train pulled out of King’s Cross station, the parents began to talk in Urdu. The girl felt restless and nervous and began making strange signals to them. As they carried out on their conversation for a few more minutes, she angrily leaned over the table and asked them to shut up. When the confused mother asked for an explanation, the girl shot back: ‘just as you do not expose your private parts in public, you do not speak that language in public (1998: 9)
This observation is crucial and expressive of a number of cultural, political and linguistic implications. Those implications echo the depth of the cultural and linguistic policies adopted by the various British governments in response to the need to integrate their new immigrant and ethnic communities in whatever integration model they opted for.
However, by the end of the 20thc and after, Britain witnessed what came to be termed the “multicultural backlash” during which multiculturalism with its race-related policies came under increasing critique and erasure. The British cultural critic Stuart Hall once commented that:
It is perfectly possible that what is politically progressive and opens us new discursive opportunities in the 1970’s and 1980’s can become a form of closure-and have a repressive value- by the time it is installed as the dominant genre….It will run out of steam; it will become a style; people will use it not because it opens up anything but because they are spoken by it, and at that point, you need another shift (1992: 15).
This prophetic statement can perfectly, I believe, reflect the situation of multiculturalism by the end of the 1990’s in Britain. The highly cherished politics of cultural pluralism seemed to run out of steam and people started to question the very meaning and relevance of multiculturalism in contemporary Britain. The multicultural paradigm was eradicated with the increasing cultural fragmentation that Britain witnessed. The race riots of 2001 in the cities of Bradford, Burnely and Oldham signaled the number of weaknesses that the multicultural paradigm seemed to suffer from. It was argued that the institutionalization of multiculturalism harmed cultural diversity more than benefited it (Malik, 2001, 2002, and Kundnani 2002).
The multicultural politics came under stern attack from a number of politicians, academics and media analysts. In brief, multiculturalism was accused of nourishing cultural and social division epitomized mainly in the increasing residential segregation along ethnic and racial lines. Hence, the ethnic fiefdoms and enclaves became characteristic of the major inner British cities. The ghettoization model seemed to materialize in Britain with its increasing underclass traits.
Immediately after the 2001 race riots, two national reports were produced (the Cantle Report and the Denham Report) to understand and recommend on the nature, causes and aspects of such events. Though identified numerous reasons for the eruption of violence in the northern cities of England during the spring and summer of 2001 – such as the socio-economic deprivation of ethnic minorities in particular and the entire population in general, irresponsible negative media coverage of ethnic issues and extremist group practices – the Cantle Report and the Denham Report shed the light primarily on the question of the increasing ethnic concentration and residential self-segregation. In those two reports, ethnic segregation (in all its dimensions) seemed to be the key cause and consequence of inter-ethnic friction in Britain. Central to the concept of ethnic segregation discourse was the phrase coined by Ted Cantle and his group: “the series of parallel lives” (Cantle, 2001: 9, emphasis is mine) that all the communities were leading. The phrase “parallel lives” seemed to sum up all the official discourse of ethnic segregation and community cohesion. So multiculturalism prevented common and mutual lives. Consequently, the governments of the day seemed to be encouraging social/community cohesion in order to make those “parallel lives” meet. The wisdom was to finish off the underlying cause (multiculturalism) in order to curb the negative outcomes (parallel lives).
Another line of criticism considered multiculturalism itself as a containment strategy used by the New Right Thatcher governments and followed by subsequent ones in order to wipe out the increasing ebb of anti-racist movements of the 1960 and 1970’. It was also a sort of socio-cultural engineering that was intended to fragment the unity of such anti-racism and lessen their militant radical activities (Brixton 1981 events). In response to the 2001 race riots in Britain, Kenan Malik argued that “Far from being a response to demands from local communities, multiculturalism was imposed from the top, the product of policies instituted by national governments and local authorities in order to defuse the anger created by racism” (Malik, 2001, emphasis is mine). Thus, a more dose of culture was thought to be the solution to the increasing power of anti-racist movements. The case was typical of the conventional imperial policy of “Divide You Rule”. Multiculturalism was then a political ideology that sought to divide ethnic minorities’ more than uniting them and serving their genuine political, social and economic interest. The common cause that united ethnic minorities was then fragmented along cultural cleavages. Malik examined the case study of Bradford to evince the impact of the ideology of multiculturalism on Bradfordian South Asian minorities. He commented that the overall South Asian umbrella of the 1970’s Asian Youth Movement was subdivided along cultural and religious lines to develop into a Hindu and Sikh Institute of Asian Business, a Hindu Economic Development Forum and a Muslim-dominated Asian Business and Processional Club during the multicultural age (Malik, 2001). The same pattern was registered in other multiethnic and multicultural British cities. Kundnani (2002) expressed the same idea when he argued that multiculturalism stifled true diversity and hindered the potentials of the British ethnic populations. Kundnani wrote that
Multiculturalism became an ideology of conservatism, of preserving the status quo intact, in the face of a real desire to move forward. As post-modern theories of “hybridity” became popular in academia, cultural difference came to be seen as an end in itself, rather than an expression of revolt, and the concept of culture became a straitjacket, hindering rather than helping the fight against race and class oppressions (Kundnani, 2002).
This brief outline of the major criticisms of the multicultural settlement set the stage for the emergence of an alternative integrationist model which took community cohesion as its ultimate goal. The third ethnic integrationist paradigm has been dominant during the 2000’s till the 2010’s. Its basic ideological assumption has been the need to create unity out of diversity. The unprecedented race relations riots that took place in a number of British northern cities alarmed the British governments and mainstream society about the lack of cultural and social cohesion within the British polity. Issues of residential segregation and the lack of inter-ethnic communication came to the fore as the pressing problems that needed urgent intervention. The suggested solution was more integrationist politics and a backlash against multicultural ones. Hence, the multicultural politics have been represented as the major cause of the lack of social cohesion and the escalation of ethnic violence. Just as Brixton events of 1981 signaled the onset of the multicultural politics, those of 2001 in some northern British cities, paved the way for the emergence of community cohesion and cultural diversity phase in the history of the British race-related politics. To claim that the race riots of 2001 were the categorical date of the cohesion-oriented discourses’ appearance is rather a methodological time cut. The rejection of the multicultural settlement and the preference of more Anglocentric integration politics have always been present in the British politics and mainstream public opinion. For instance, in the city of Bradford, a local report on the situation of multiculturalism and its results was produced even before the outbreak of the 2001 racial disturbances. The local report was entitled Community Pride not prejudice. Even before the race riots, the report identified ethnic residential segregation as the major trigger of the socio-cultural fragmentation the victim of which was community cohesion. Community Pride not prejudice report was working in response to the legal requirements of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, 2000. The act placed on public bodies a new positive obligation to promote equality and harmony. Also, it provided a legislative framework within which community cohesion can be developed.
Nevertheless, the 2001 race riots and the more spectacular September, 11, 2001 attacks in the United States were a major catalyst to the flourishing of social cohesion agenda in Britain. A number of national and local reports were produced to tackle the perceived problem of cultural and social divisions and set out the best practices and procedures to restore cultural harmony and social cohesion. The Oldham Report, the Burnley Report, the Cantle Report and the Denham Report agreed that, although other complex factors such as racism, unemployment and cultural marginalization contributed to the lack of social cohesion, ethnic minorities’ cultural separateness and residential segregation had the lion’s share in creating “parallel lives” and mutually exclusive ethnic “comfort zones”. It was widely agreed that multiculturalism was responsible for the ethnic separateness and the resultant ethnic conflicts.
The alternative discourse of governance has been ‘community cohesion”; the Cantle Report was its blueprint. Again, there seems a U-Turn in the British race-related politics. What is named cohesion discourses is in many respects a rejuvenation of the immediate post-war assimilationist politics. The above stated local and national reports agreed (with differentiated extents) that the problem was the cultural differences of the British ethnic minorities. Though some pro-multiculturalism reports such as the Parekh Report (Pilkington, 2003) attempted to defend the diverse and multicultural nature of the contemporary British community, the ideological and political tide seemed to favour those discourses that played down multiculturalism and asked for new formulas of integrationism. Immediately after the 2001 riots, a Community Cohesion Review Team (CCRT) was set up to investigate into the causes of the riots. It produced the Cantle Report along with another inter-departmental Ministerial Group on Public Order and Community Cohesion that produced the other influential Denham Report. The two reports framed the political jargon of the then New Labour government. Cultural difference was depicted as the problem that needed an urgent reconceptualization and reconfiguration of the meaning of the national identity in which linguistic politics played a vital role. Important documents, such as The New and the Old (2003) and Integration Matters: A National Strategy for Refugee Integration (2004), were produced to support the emerging political discourses of community cohesion. The term “multiculturalism” was virtually absent in those official political documents (Grillo, 2005) which evinces that community cohesion politics were to be understood as the antithesis of those of multiculturalism. Community cohesion politics attempted to promote intercultural contact by mixing the public spaces as much as possible so that people from different cultures can communicate and find common value backgrounds. However, to the interest of my arguments in this article, English language was explicitly represented as marker and maker of the British national identity. English language has been considered as the route to achieve this community cohesion, shared common values and a sort of a common national identity. A White Paper entitled Secure Borders, Safe Haven (2001) identified the agenda of the community cohesion. Among other crucial recommendations, the Paper treated the question of the British nationality and its close relationship to the English language; a relationship that was conceived as intimate and inseparable. Thus the British identity was understood as reflecting the character of the English language and culture. Also, any immigrant desiring to become British and enjoy the benefits of the British citizenship had to learn English and prove apt proficiency in its use. The Paper states that
Becoming British through registration or naturalisation is – or should be – a significant life event. It can be seen as an act of commitment to Britain and an important step in the process of achieving integration into our society. Yet, in spite of this, some applicants for naturalisation do not have much practical knowledge about British life or [English] language, possibly leaving them vulnerable and ill-equipped to take an active role in society. This can lead to social exclusion and may contribute to problems of polarization between communities. We need a sense of civic identity and shared values; and knowledge of the English language … can undoubtedly support this objective (Home Office, 2001: 32).
So, no British citizenship is granted without the linguistic and cultural knowledge of the British society and British identity. Applicants for such citizenship will need to “produce certificates showing that they have passed a language test, if necessary after having taken part in a suitable course” (Home Office: 2001, chap. 2, para. 2.14: 32). The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act of 2002 conformed such language/cultural planning politics of the “Cohesionist Agenda”. The Act asked for three major requirements that have to be met by any nationality applicant:
- A sufficient knowledge of a “British” langue (English, Welch, or Scottish Gaelic).
-Sufficed knowledge of British culture ad way of life.
-Taking up a Citizenship Oath and a Pledge at a civil ceremony that shows his/her loyalty to and acceptance of British identity and polity.
Those types of discourses ushered into a neo-assimilationist agenda that substituted that of multiculturalism. Julios commented that
The making of such criteria a condition for attainting naturalisation can be seen as the strongest indication yet of the paradigm shift taking place within government. Requiring would-be British citizens to demonstrate knowledge of the English language, acquiescence with Britain’s way of life as well as the making of a public commitment to our common values and democratic principles indeed reflects a concerted move towards integration and away from multiculturalism (2008: 121).
I share the same attitude of Christina Julios, and I add that English language has been the main medium through which various strategies of integration were articulated. Language planning was evident in the adopted educational choices. While immigrants and ethnic minorities were encouraged to adopt the British and Anglo-Saxon worldviews along with English language, mainstream white pupils were discouraged from learning Modern Foreign Languages, and hence foreign cultures. The British educational system seemed to go mono-cultural during the community cohesion era. A Green Paper entitled Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards reflected such assimilatory, mono-cultural and Anglo-centric agenda when it stated that only English, Mathematics, Science and ICT were essential to the progression in the educational career. Modern Foreign Languages were, thus, relegated to a secondary, if not marginal, position. English language was represented as a national issue and national priority while other languages were regarded as local and sectional. The Green Paper confirmed this when it indicated that
We would expect all schools to make Modern Foreign Languages, Design and Technology, the Arts and the Humanities available, but how schools provide such entitlement to access in these subjects is a matter for local decision (DfES 2002, ch. 3, para. 17, 4).
This discourse could be read as an official shift from multiculturalism to neo-assimilationsim, from multilingual education to a predominantly assimilatory and nationalist one. Despite the fact that subsequent White Papers such as Education and Skills (2005) attempted to restore a certain balance between the national language (English) and other foreign languages (ethnic languages), English was still represented as the normal, the central, and the obligatory while others were regarded as deviant, secondary and optional. This is a case of the cultural and social engineering via language planning.
The contemporary British government has produced a guide to those would-be immigrants that shows them how to apply for the British citizenship. The guide is entitled “Prove your knowledge of English for citizenship and settling” and it is produced by the British Home office. Expectedly, English language is cast as a major requirement for belonging. Yet, some exceptions are tolerated by the British authorities. Those exceptions are for those who are aged over 65; people whose future is behind them. Second, those unable to, because of a long-term physical or mental condition with the obligation of providing a completed exemption form or letter from a doctor confirming their physical or mental condition are also exempted from learning English. Ironically, it seems that English language is represented as the language of the sane, the active and the future-looking citizens while other languages are dedicated to those who have no future or suffer from a certain anomaly.
The importance of language in shaping and expressing cultural identity has been supported by numerous academic researches. People are cultural agents who live in and through their symbolic interactive system (Language). Not surprisingly, English language has always been deemed as integral and constitutive of the British cultural identity. However, as shown in this article, cultural identity is not that essentialist concept. The concept is illusive and multifaceted. Nevertheless, the British political and cultural discourses of integration seemed to hold fixed and rigid understandings of the concept of British identity. The concept is thus materialized in a number of procedural policies (like different pieces of legislation) and in an increasing belief that the English language/culture is integral of what means to be a British. Roughly, post-war Britain witnessed three major integration models that reflected the changing character of the British ethnic and cultural demography. A steady move from the assimilationsist model to the multicultural, to the community cohesion-related model has been churned out within the British polity. While the laissez-faire approach of the early 20thc and immediate post-war era sought to keep the status quo in which the Anglo-Saxon white culture had the upper hand, the multicultural approach of the late 20thc aimed to accommodate the needs and interests of the increasingly visible British ethnic minorities. The current community cohesion-oriented approach champions the commonalities of the socio-cultural values and national British identity.
Yet, in all those approaches, English language looms large as fundamental in understanding, creating and representing Britishness. I argue that the current model of integration is of particular importance. It is so since it tries to strike an intricate balance between two seemingly contradictory values: social cohesion and cultural diversity. Equally, the new model is one that searches for unity within diversity. Language/cultural planning has a crucial role to play in that difficult project.
The current politics of community cohesion are to be understood as a backlash against the ideology of multiculturalism. It seems that community cohesion is a restoration of the old politics of assimilationism. It virtually asked for the same ideological assumptions of the assimilatory agenda: shared national identity, common values, problematic cultural difference and social cohesion. However, importantly, the politics of community cohesion witnessed a decisive shift in the use of political terminology. It ignored the use of race-related terminology so that to avoid racialized discursive formations. Lewis and Neal note that “what has been particularly apparent has been a partial shift away from affirmations of British multiculture towards a (re)embracing of older notions of assimilationism within a newer, de-racialized, language of social cohesion” (2005: 437). These linguistic and conceptual choices reflect the delicate nature of the discourses of community cohesion as the new rhetoric of governance in Britain. The community cohesion agenda is reported to uphold a number of fundamental political and ideological assumptions notably, the centrality of the English language in the construction of Britishness, the importance of the British cultural heritage and the relevance of the British historical institutions and civil and democratic values. However, my scrutiny of the various discourses and models of integrating the British ethnic minorities reveals that the same assumptions have been incessantly embedded in the British political and cultural performances. The differences, if any, reside in the extent of celebrating such underlying values in response to the dominant paradigm of integration model, and to the general zeitgeist of the era in question. Interestingly, Christina Julios (2008) compared two identity-related statements of two different British politicians in two different political and historical contexts to discover that they indulge into the same cultural and ideological discursive formations. The two statements were uttered by the Right Rev. Mandel Creighton, Lord Bishop of Peterborough in 1896 and that of New Labour British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2006. Creighton wrote that:
In fact, nations, as we conceive them, are founded upon a consciousness of common interests and ideas, which are the result of a long and complicated experience. That consciousness separates them from other nations who do not share those interests, and are consequently termed as foreigners (Creighton 1896, 8–9).
In December 2006, more than one country after, Blair explained:
when it comes to our essential values – belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment of all, respect for this country and its shared heritage – then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common; it is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point, no distinctive culture or religion supersedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom (Blair 2006)
Both politicians, despite the differences stated above, presented virtually the same set of identity discourses which reflects the hard task of understanding, let alone defining the British identity. This similarity echoes the unfinished journey of creating a workable collective sense of the British cultural identity given the ever-changing nature of the British society. The restless character of Britishness is the result of living with diversity and difference and coping with the national, continental and international challenges of immigration, globalization and international terrorism.
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