Club cultures in the early 1990s are maybe best characterised as neo-tribes.
Sarah Thornton’s (1995) Club Cultures (1) is an ethnographic study of dance clubs and rave culture in the early to mid 1990s.
She found that club cultures were a youth culture, being mainly made of up 15-24 year olds and made the following observations.
Clubbers came together at specific dance events, but didn’t have much in common or hang out outside of these events (my interpretation: they can thus be classified as a neo-tribe).
Club cultures are not oppositional to a mainstream culture
Class was not important in shaping club cultures.
Thornton’s work seems to criticise the view of Centre of for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
Her theoretical starting point was Bourdieu, from whom she developed the concept of subcultural capital.
The most important aspect of club culture is the way it is used by young people to differentiate themselves from each other, and they do this through subcultural capital.
Subcultural capital refers to the appropriate, fashionable tastes and styles and local knowledges specific subcultures
Fashionable haircuts, well assembled record collections, being ‘in the know’, using current slang and dancing the latest dance styles like a natural are all examples of ‘subcultural capital’.
The main purpose of subcultural capital is to provide status to the clubber. Demonstration of good taste, or ‘hipness’ provides clubbers with social approval and recognition.
Subcultural capital can be used to gain economic capital. For example, D.J.s can make a living out of performing the correct sets.
Clubbers have to keep up with the latest trends to maintain their subcultural capital: they need to know which clubs are in fashion and go to them to keep up appearance and avoid being too associated with mainstream popular music.
Tastes within subcultures change over time, and members needed to keep up. For example, by the end of 1989 the media had made Acid House too popular, and acid house fans came to be seen as sheep, mindlessly following media trends as dismissed as ‘mindless ravers’ or ‘acid teds’ and were looked down upon.
Class, age, gender and clubbing
Clubbers were predominately young, mainly 15-24, and this was the major broad identifier of clubbers.
Thornton saw club culture as part of youth-transition where people could have freedom to experiment and grow up away from their parents.
There was no clear link between class and clubbers, and club culture was more of a rebellious way of escaping the class conferred onto the individual by their parents.
Gender was an important social division. Although more girls went clubbing than boys, the masculine was afforded more status in club culture than the feminine, and clubbers tended to look down on working-class girls especially, who they saw as the most likely to like mainstream music and fashion.
Thus dance cultures looked down on working class girls especially, thus dance culture didn’t challenge ruling class structures.
Thornton provides a useful criticism of the CCCS, as her work suggests that dance cultures had little to do with resisting mainstream culture.
She identified that dance culture was linked to youth transitions to adulthood.
She found that dance cultures varied and changed rapidly and that clubbers tended to change with them, suggesting dance culture was more of a postmodern neo-tribe rather than a modern subculture.
One criticism of Thornton is that she didn’t draw out links between the rise of dance cultures and wider social changes such as the shift to postmodernity.
This material is mainly relevant to the culture and identity module, usually taught in the first year of A-level sociology.
(1) Thornton (1995) Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital
Barbie lives in Barbieland, which for some is a feminist utopia in which women can do anything: be president, have highly professional careers (the entire Supreme Court are female) as well as wear high heels and throw all night parties.
However all is not well in Barbieland: Barbie starts having nightmares and thinking about death, because the people in the real world are sad. So Barbie, accompanied by Ken, visits the real world to find her human family and solve their problems.
In the real world, Barbie is shocked by ‘the patriarchy’. She finds herself subjected to objectification and harassment. When she finds her family, the teenage daughter thinks Barbie is nothing more than a professional bimbo who makes women feel bad about herself.
It turns out this teenage girl is the source of sadness. She has stopped playing with her Barbie dolls because she blames them for men hating women and women hating women.
Ken, on the other hand, feels empowered by ‘the patriarchy. In contrast to his emasculated life on the beach in Barbieland, in the real world He ends up thinking he can do anything just because he is a man. At one point he barges into a hospital thinking he can perform surgery, without any qualifications or experience.
Back in Barbieland Ken changes things. The Supreme Court are demoted to a cheerleading squad, the president ends up serving men drinks. Every night is a ‘boys’ night and every barbie exists just to be ogled for male pleasure.
When Barbie returns she eventually manages to rally the barbies to overthrow their oppressors. Ken and Barbie apologies and the Barbies accept that a new society needs to be established with better rules for kens.
In a hideous postmodern/ commercial twist Barbie meets with the spirit of the Mattel founder. She finds out she is uncertain of her role in the world because there is no set role. The film ends with Barbie returning to the real world: her story carries on ‘evolving’.
At one level this film is a feminist commentary in line with what we might call Bimbo Feminism. This holds that women can embrace femininity and succeed professionally.
It is also a criticism of Patriarchy and especially the manosphere. When Ken returns to Barbieland he convinces the Kens that their rights have been eroded by women. They adopt toxic forms of masculinity in order to reassert their power.
This is also a movie about male as well as female roles. It is about how Kens (men) struggle to cope with increasing female power, many falling back on toxic masculinities.
The movie is also a commentary on the uncertainty of gender identities and how they are open to interpretation.
It also maybe gets us thinking about what use masculinity is at all going forwards: perhaps the future is one of abandoning heteronormativity entirely?
Postmodern feminism criticises the discourse of heteronormativity: gender and sex are fluid!
Postmodern Feminists argue that both men and women need to be liberated from the idea of heteronormativity: the idea that heterosexual male and female gender identities are the norm.
Historically, the idea that there are just two simple binary heterosexual identities comes from men and is one of the ways in which male power over women is maintained, with everything male being linked to the public sphere and everything female being linked to the domestic sphere.
For postmodern feminists, there isn’t a simple divide between biological male = masculine and biological female = feminine. Rather, everything about sex, sexuality and gender identity are fluid, and all gender identities are equally valid.
However, the dominant binary heterosexual male-female discourse makes it difficult for people who don’t ‘fit’ into ‘normal’ gender identities to be themselves, and raising awareness of the oppressive nature of the concept of ‘heteronormativity’ and celebrating gender differences and diversity are two of the main focuses of postmodern feminism.
Postmodern Feminist Philosophy
Postmodern feminism can also be called poststructuralist feminism or ‘cultural turn’ feminism, reflecting the shift away from structural and materialist theories and towards post-structuralism and cultural theories more generally from the mid 1980s onwards.
It was developed mainly by academics in the humanities rather than social science academics or feminist activists and it is much more philosophical than previous feminisms.
Postmodern Feminism is associated with a radical social-constructionist position which holds that there is no reality beyond social construction: discourses (what is discussed) shape the ‘realities’ people experience.
For postmodern feminists discourses are created by powerful groups of males and it is possible to identify and expose male-centred discourses.
Five examples of postmodern feminist thinkers include Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, Donna Harraway, Julia Kristeva and Helene Cixous.
The central focus for these thinkers is the ways in which female ‘subjectivity’ is constrained by textual and cultural forms defined and dominated by men.
One of the main focuses of postmodern feminism was to challenge thinking in dyads such as male-female and challenge the stability of dualistic ways of thinking, which it sees as repressive and to posit instead a liberating condition of the instability of all categories and truth claims.
In the condition of post modern liberation, men and women are free to choose to be a man, woman, gay, straight, trans or anything else, and identities are never fixed, they are fluid, multiple and fragmented.
Postmodern Feminists are especially critical of science’s dominant role in contemporary culture and its drive to fix gender and sex categories, which is seen as oppressive because this limits people’s capacities to shape their own (gender) identities.
Because of its focus on diversity, Postmodern Feminism is critical of Liberal and Marxist Feminist notions that we need to focus on politics for social change, and of Radical Feminism’s claims that there is a universal sisterhood with shared interests. Rather, there are diverse people who each need to be freed from the tyranny of truth so they can decide on how to shape their own gender identities going forwards!
The rest of this post will explore the work of Irigarary, Butler and Harraway in more depth.
Luce Irigaray argues that all that is known in mainstream society and culture about women and sexual desire is known from a male perspective, resulting in a vision of women she calls ‘masculine feminine’.
One of Irigaray’s aims is to overturn this male perspective, so that women are seen in their own terms, or as the ‘feminine female’.
Throughout the history of Western thought, women have been depicted as not-men, as negative entities which are lacking.
Women’s identity and sexuality are represented in this way because of ‘phallogocentrism’ , the patriarchal view of the world expressed in and through language as defined by men, a vision which tries to ‘freeze’ the meaning of ‘female’ and represent it in negative ways.
The task of theory is to liberate women from seeing themselves in such a way, and to realise that their own sexualities have plural dimensions which have the power to change female identities and escape the grip of phallogocentric culture.
Judith Butler claims that there is no such as sex. More specifically, she means that the sex categories of biologically distinct ‘male’ and ‘female’ do not exist in the real world, these categories are just mental constructions, part of language (discourse), but not real.
In other words, ‘men’ and ‘women’ are just people who have been labelled ‘men’ and ‘women’ they are not, in reality, biologically distinct from one another. We just think these labels refer to real, distinct entities.
This goes beyond feminist theorising in the 1970s, when feminists such as Ann Oakley generally thought that sex and gender were two different things with biological sex being fixed at birth (male or female) and gender being the cultural norms. we attach to these two sexes (masculine-feminie). For feminist theory in the 1970s, liberation meant changing gender norms, but sex-differences were generally seen as something determined by nature, so not up for discussion.
Butler challenges these earlier feminist ideas , by arguing that the idea that there is a natural biological divide between men and women is also a construction of patriarchy.
For Butler, both sex and gender are not just attributes people ‘have’, they are what people ‘do’. People ‘perform gender’ through what Butler refers to as ‘stylized repetition of acts’ enacted through the most mundane day to day body language, movements and general deportment that when taken together give the impression of a fixed ‘gendered self’.
People become a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’ through the acts they perform, they aren’t already a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ at birth.
Feminist criticisms of science
Donna Harraway criticises the patriarchal organisation of science and the gendered categories it produces, which are disseminated through society.
Harraway is critical of the positivist view that science is objective and value free, instead arguing it is a product of capitalism, militarism, colonization and male domination.
Scientific knowledge is no less ideological than other forms of knowledge (or discourse).
Harraway argued that scientific knowledge emerges out of social practices, and is influenced by the backgrounds of scientists, the knowledge created is contingent on them and would be different if constructed by other people in other societies.
She analyses a series of experiments carried out in seventeenth-century England, emphasising that those networks were made up almost entirely of white, European, upper class males, and the male bias within those networks influenced the connection of male to active and female to passive, ideas which have continued to be a central part of patriarchal culture ever since
She also examined how the scientific study of primates was a key development in the political ordering between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, ‘male’ and ‘female’ and ‘science’ and ‘ideology’.
However, because science is social in origins, it is not inherently patriarchal, it could potentially be reorganised to assist in female liberation.
Evaluations of Postmodern Feminism
Much of Postmodern Feminism isn’t grounded: it is not based in empirical evidence, rather it is based on freewheeling philosophy.
Deconstructive methods are purely negative, there is little positive about what we should do beyond criticising dominant discourses.
both men and women did more housework and childcare, but women still did a lot more than men!
Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that while men did proportionally more childcare and housework during lockdown compared to pre-lockdown, women did more housework and childcare than their male partners during the lockdowns and women’s pay took a larger hit than men’s.
The fact that women continued to shoulder the burden of domestic work and childcare cannot be explained by differences in occupations or income and seems to be explained simply by gender norms.
Data was collected using an online survey of almost 5000 parents with at least one child aged between 4 and 15 years, conducted during the first Lockdown between 29 April and 15 May 2020, this survey used a diary instrument to measure time use during this period, and the survey also collected data on occupation and income before and during the Pandemic.
Before lockdown mothers were at 82% of the employment rate of fathers, this fell to 70% during lockdown.
Lockdowns involved an increase in domestic labour and childcare for both men and women…
During lockdown mothers did four hours more on childcare and housework than fathers, and this is true of women in higher and lower income jobs.
The research also found that this isn’t because of couples being rational about men earning more than women, even in couples where men and women earned the same, or women earned more than men, women still did proportionally more housework and childcare than men.
In conclusion it seems that the sudden shock of being forced into more home work did relatively little to change the traditional gender divide in the domestic division of labour.
However this doesn’t necessarily mean that shifting towards more home working and flexible working hours will continue to reinforce such patterns going forwards, under normal working circumstances rather than in the middle of a pandemic!
Sources and Signposting…
This material is mainly relevant to the families and households module, which is usually taught as part of the families and households module.
If offers broad support for the radical feminist view that when the nuclear family becomes relatively more isolated, as happened during lockdown, we revert to more traditional, ‘patriarchal’ relations between men and women.
Official crime statistics show that there were 33 000 shoplifting offences recorded in March, 31% more than last year.
This is in line with crime data reported by the Co-op, which reported a 35% increase year on year. In the six months to June, the group recorded 1000 incidents of crime every day across all its outlets.
The seriousness of these retail offences also seem to be getting worse. A higher proportion of crimes involve violence and some have involved gangs entering shops and looting.
This is reflective of an increase in retail crime more broadly. The 2022 crime report by the British Retail Consortium reported a more than doubling of violent crimes and abusive behaviour towards staff in 2020-21 compared to 2019-22.
Explaining the increase in retail crime
There are three possible explanations for the above crime trends:
Firstly the cost of living crisis will explain some of the increase in shoplifting. With more people dropping below the poverty line, some will turn to shoplifting. There are more people facing a choice of heating or eating, after all.
Secondly the police have been putting less focus on less serious offences. They have been screening out low-level offences so they can focus on more serious crimes.
When criminals know they are less likely to get caught, they are more likely to commit crime.
Finally, the increase in violent and anti-social offences during lockdown may be explained through increased stress when shopping. It is likely that many of these cases were caused by people getting upset by shortages and lockdown measures in shops.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This material seems to support rational choice theory and right realism which are part of the crime and deviance module.
but flexible work hours leads to more gender equality at home.
An analysis of six years of longitudinal data from between 2010 and 2016 has found that home working reinforces a traditional gendered division of domestic labour while flexible working leads to a more equal domestic arrangement.
The research analysed data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (2010-2016) which surveyed 1700 working parents with at least one child aged under 12.
Overall, women spend more than twice as long as men doing housework. Women reported doing 13.4 hours of housework a week on average, men reported doing an average of 5.5; while 54% of women reported being primarily responsible for childcare.
Further data analysis adjusted the stats for income, education level, ethnicity, age and neighbourhood to isolate the effect of working from home on childcare and housework.
Fathers working from home were half as likely to report they were sharing child care compared to those who were not working from home, with men fearing they may lose their masculinity when taking on more routine tasks.
Whereas women working from home were twice as likely to report they were primarily responsible for childcare compared to those who were not working from home.
The effect was greater for lower income couples: women doing low income jobs at home spent proportionately more time doing domestic work than women in higher income jobs.
Flexible working hours led to a more equal gendered division of labour
Flexitime, where men and women have some degree of control over their working hours (days of the week/ start and finish times) led to a more equal division of domestic labour.
Conclusions and relevance
The broad conclusions are that working from home does not benefit women, but flexible working arrangements do, so if we want to see a more equal division of labour and childcare we want to push for more flexible working hours, not necessarily more home-working hours!
You need to be careful when using this research as the results are open to interpretation.
If we just allow men and women to work at home then this reinforces traditional gendered divisions of labour. This suggests that if the domestic sphere is further isolated from society this results in ‘patriarchal norms’ being reinforced. This seems to suggest support for the radical feminist view that the isolated, privatised nuclear family is oppressive to women: as they end up doing more domestic labour, men end up doing less when both partners do more paid work from home.
HOWEVER, the fact that more flexible working hours results in more gender equality in how domestic chores are divided offers support for liberal feminism: when men and women are both working but more flexibly, this breaks down the oppressive traditional division of labour, but this requires men and women to be out at work.
Overall, it suggests that a good social policy change would be to introduce more flexible working hours in general, but that pushing for more home based working isn’t such a good idea, if we are interested in more gender equality at home that is!
Limitations of this research
One limitation of this survey is the relatively low sample sizes for those home working and doing flexitime.
Only 7% of men used working from home arrangements, and only 5% of women. Only 15% of women used flexitime, and only 11% men.
This means with a sample size of 1700, only around 50 men would have been working from home in that sample, and once you control for income, location, and ethnicity you have some very small sub-samples, for example.
A summary of the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies neo-marxist approach to youth subcultures.
The Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (BCCS) developed a Neo-marxist theory of youth subcultures in Post War Britain.
The BCCS published its most influential research in the 1970s and 1980s.
BCCS Theory of Culture
Hall and Jefferson argued that material circumstances imposed limits on the development of culture, and so culture reflected class divisions in society. However culture was not entirely determined by material factors, but rather an active and creative response to the material circumstances or class positions in which people found themselves.
The broader culture an individual is born into shapes the way they see the world, creating a kind of flexible map of meaning which shapes or limits the kind of cultures they create.
Cultures exist in a hierarchical relationship with one another. The culture of elite groups will always be more powerful than others, but is insufficient to be totally dominant and all controlling.
Hall et al used Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, arguing that the dominant ideology of elite culture can be opposed by less powerful classes. Subordinate groups struggle to win space and make room for their own styles, away from the influence of the dominant culture.
The BCCS saw youth subcultures as creative attempts to win autonomy from dominant cultures. They seek to carve out cultural space for themselves within local neighbourhoods and institutions.
Youth cultures create their own distinctive styles of dress and music which solve in an imaginary way some problems which at a concrete, material level remain unresolved.
Youth subcultures tend to emphasise authenticity, it is important the culture comes from the ground up rather than being a creation of the media.
One of the main works outlining the BCCC’s theory of youth subcultures was Hall and Jefferson (1976) Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain.
Tony Jefferson: Teddy Boys
Jefferson (1976) argued that Teddy Boy culture was an attempt to recreate a sense of working class community which had come under threat in postwar Britain due to urban redevelopment and the growing affluence of some sectors of the working class.
Unskilled working class youth felt their social status was being undermined by a combination of urban redevelopment and increasing ethnic minorities in their neighbourhoods.
They responded by developing Teddy Boy culture: with a strong style of dress incorporating Edwardian-style jackets, bootlace ties and suede shows, with groups having a strong sense of loyalty to each other and being prepared to fight over territory.
According to Jefferson the various elements of their chosen styles were an attempt to signify status, drawn from different sources. For example the Edwardian jackets were appropriated from upper class dandies and the bootlace ties drawing on slick city gamblers from U.S. Westerns signifying that they saw themselves as outsiders, living by their wits.
Teddy boy culture was not an effective means of stopping the social changes that were undermining working class status, but it at least made its members feel as if they were doing something and they were an authentic expression of the contradictions being felt by the working classes.
Dick Hebdige: Subculture The Meaning of Style
Subcultures define themselves in opposition to mainstream culture and reject the shared lifestyle and culture of most of mainstream society, and they express resistance to the mainstream creatively through clothing, music and art.
Each youth subculture develops its own style and transforms the meaning of everyday objects. Apparently ordinary, every day objects are appropriated by subcultures and made to carry secret meanings only known by members of that subculture which expresses a form of resistance to the social order,
For example, Teddy boys transformed the meanings of Edwardian suits and boots, punks transformed the meaning of safety pins and ripped jeans.
However although this resistance or opposition is an important source of identity for the members of subcultures, resistance tends to remain only at the symbolic level, which guarantees their continued subordination.
According to Hebdige, Punk culture almost rewrote the rules of semiology, in some ways changing the way signs were used to convey meaning.
Punk emerged in Britain in the late 1970s and was popular into the early 1980s. It drew some meaning from Rastafarianism and Reggae, for example the Clash incorporated reggae rhythms into their music and some punks wore the red gold and green of Rastafarians.
Punk also adopted an opposition to being British, being anti-monarchy, as exampled in the S*x Pistols classic song: God Save the Queen.
Punk also defined itself against the empty commercialism of pop music, and tried to break down the barrier between performer and artist, encouraging anyone to form a band even if they could only play a couple of chords.
There was a claim to speak for the neglected white working class youth, acting out the alienation associated with the experiences of unemployment, living on poor housing estates and feeling abandoned by the system.
However, with punk there was often no solution to the social malaise of early 1980s Britain , no future.
Punk and Chaos
For Hebdige, punk subculture signified chaos at several levels. A lack of identifiable values was the main value of Punk culture.
Some symbols they used were highly detached, showing a lack. of meaning, for example the swastika was a popular punk icon, despite the fact that Punks were mostly anti-nazi and anti-racist.
Conventional semiotics can’t deal with punk, where signifiers are separated from signified. To understand punk culture, Hebdige developed the idea of signifying practices: the relationship between langue (the structure of language) and parole (individual usages of language) is reversed. Rather than meaning deriving from the overall structure of the language, meaning derives from the position of the person using it.
For example, the swastika’s meaning derived from the fact that punks were punks and nothing deeper.
Hebdige also applied Marxism seeing punk subculture as a form resistance to the experienced contradictions within ruling class ideology.
Ultimately punk posed no major threat to the ruling class but it did produce ‘noise’ – an alternative source of idea which interferes with the ruling classes attempt to create the sense of harmony in society.
Evaluations of the BCCCs and Hebdige
There is no evidence that any of subcultures Hebdige studied interpreted their own cultures in the same way he did, his theory is just one interpretation and there are many ways of interpreting subcultures.
It is possible that in the 1970s and before subcultures were class based, but from the 1980s the growth of consumerism meant that subcultures cut across class divisions, being based mainly on taste and style rather than stemming from any kind of opposition to the system.
The CCCS seemed to assume that subcultures were national, but in reality they may have had regional variations.
It could be that Teddy Boys and Punks were never as oppositional to mainstream culture as the CCCS suggested.
Postmodernist reject the view that well-defined subcultures ever existed. In the past, as today, they were rather more fluid and people kind of dipped into them rather than existed entirely within them.
Signposting and sources
This material is mainly relevant to the culture and identity module, usually taught in the first year of A-level sociology.
Question: “To tackle air pollution in the capital, the Mayor of London and Transport for London are proposing to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) London-wide. The proposed implementation date for this is 29th August 2023. Which, if any, of the following comes closest to your view?”
ULEZ Survey: charges mentioned
Question: “To tackle air pollution, some places across the UK like London, are introducing charges in Low Emission Zones (sometimes called Ultra Low Emission Zones or ULEZ) where those who drive the more polluting cars or vehicles have to pay a fee or charge to drive into these areas. Would you support or oppose a similar ULEZ charge in your local area? “
Attitudes to ULEZ Conclusions
I’d be inclined to say the question which mentions charges is a more accurate reflection of public opinion. This is because it includes more specific details so people can provide a more informed response.
We can also see from the above that lower social classes are more likely to be against ULEZ. This makes sense because these are the people who can’t afford to buy newer vehicles.
We also see that younger people are more in favour, which reflects attitudes to the environment more generally.
It is shameful that the Tories are prepared to use the environment as a political tool. They are sacrificing the future of younger people to win a few more seats in the hope of staying in power.
The fact that they are prepared to do this shows us they are no longer worthy to govern.
Sources AND signposting
This is mainly relevant to the social research methods topic. It is a good example of how social surveys are more useful with more detailed questions.
two responses to globalisation are more hybrid identities but also a retreat to more restrictive national identities.
Andrew Pilkington (2002) argues that nationalisms are socially constructed. Nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, despite the fact that many nationalist movements claim their origins go back thousands of years.
For most of human history, humans organised themselves in small social groups, and the idea of identifying with millions of strangers would have seemed alien.
It was only in the 18th century that the idea of nations and national identities started to emerge, encouraged by economic changes brought about through the industrial revolution. Strengthening the idea of the nation was also useful for colonialism.
A concept of ‘otherness’ was also central to developing national identities. For example the British (Protestant) national identity was developed in contrast, even opposition to the French (Catholic) national identity and vice versa.
development of mass communications that the abstract idea of the nation became possible and national identities started to be constructed.
Pilkington documented how a sense of Britishness gradually filtered down from the elite to the middle classes as the population became more literate during the 18th and 19 centuries and then down to the whole population as mass communications spread the idea more broadly.
All of the pomp and ritual surrounding the British monarchy has been a crucial part of establishing British national identity over the centuries, as well as stories about heroes who fought the French, such as Nelson.
Pilkington notes that the British National Identity has historically been very white, with Black and Asian people having almost no representation (NB this may have changed recently), but that it never managed to overwhelm Scottish, English or Welsh identities.
Globalisation and National Identity
Because they are socially constructed, ideas surrounding national identities change over time, and globalisation has had a profound impact on nations and nationalisms around the world.
Globalisation brings a dual threat to nations and national identities which come under pressure from centralisation and decentralisation.
Centralisation creates pressures from above, with the increasing importance of regional and international institutions such as the European Union and the World Health Organisation.
Decentralisation creates pressures from below with the strengthening of ethnic identities within countries and the breakup of some countries, such as the collapse of the USSR.
One response to globalisation is the strengthening of ethnic identities as ethnic minorities, such as the Welsh and Scottish within Britain (for example) stress their ethnic distinctiveness in relation to the English and campaign for more independence and autonomy from the British State – as we see with the development of the Welsh and Scottish partially devolved governments.
Some people see globalisation as threatening national identities and one response is to retreat into a more restrictive and narrow definition of Englishness. Anyone who claims that White Britishness is superior would fall into this category.
Another response is increasingly hybrid-identities as some people accept that it is possible to have multiple identities at the same time – to be simultaneously European, British and Scottish, for example.
A good example of this is Gordon Brown who once claimed that he believed Britain could be the first multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-national state. We see a similar mind-set in any group willing to celebrate hybrid-ethnic identities.
This material should be useful for anyone studying the culture and identity module as part of A-level sociology.