Identification. The name of the country and the term “English” derive from the Old English word for one of the three Germanic peoples that invaded the British Isles in the fifth century C . E ., the Angles. “Britain” and “British” derive from a Roman term for the inhabitants’ language of the British Isles, called “Brythonic” or p-Celtic.
Englishness is highly regionalized. The most important regional divide is between the south and the north. The south, chiefly represented by the regions of the southeast, southwest, East Anglia, and the Midlands, now contains the economically most dynamic sectors of the country, including the City (the chief financial center of the United Kingdom) and the seat of the national government, both in London. The north, the cradle of industrialization and the site of traditional smokestack industries, includes Yorkshire, Lancashire, Northumberland, Cumbria, Durham, Merseyside, and Cheshire. Especially in the last decades of the twentieth century, the north has experienced deindustrialization, severe economic hardship, and cultural balkanization. England is also a culture of many smaller regionalisms, still centered on the old governmental unit of the county and the local villages and towns. Local products, such as ale, and regional rituals and art forms, such as Morris dancing and folk music, many of which date back to the preindustrial era, allow people to shape their attachments to their communities and the nation. Merged with the north–south divide and regionalism are notions of working class, middle class, and upper class as well as rich versus poor.
England’s role as a destination for migration also has influenced conceptions of Englishness. Historically, the most prominent immigrant group has been the Irish, who came in two major waves in the modern era: 1847 and 1848 after the potato famine, and during and after World War II. Scots were present in England by the 1700s and settled in England in large numbers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, often for economic reasons. Welsh in-migration came to prominence when deindustrialization began in Wales in the 1920s. This inmigration has brought the so-called Celtic fringe into English culture in a host of ways. There has also been the impact of Jewish, Flemish, Dutch, French Huguenot, German, Italian, Polish, Turkish, Cypriot, and Chinese cultures since the twelfth century. The loss of Britain’s colonies has brought Afro-Caribbeans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Indians, and migrants from northwestern and eastern Africa in significant numbers. Judgments of whether England’s newcomers feel themselves to be “English” vary by group and even by individual.
Location and Geography. England covers 50,357 square miles (130,423 square kilometers) of the main island of the British Isles and lies off the northwestern coast of Europe, separated from the mainland by the English Channel. The Gulf Stream makes the climate mild and rainy. The country is also divided into a highland zone and a lowland zone along a line from the mouth of the River Exe in the southwest to the mouth of the River Tees in the northeast. The highland zone’s soil is poor and rocky, mainly suitable for raising livestock, but in the lowlands the land is flatter, the soil is fertile, and there are many navigable rivers. As a result of its favorable topography, the lowland region has always had the majority of the population, supported most agriculture and trade, and had the largest cities including the capital, London. The highland zone did not develop rapidly until the nineteenth century, when its coal and iron deposits allowed it to surge to prominence in the industrial revolution;
its communities struggle in England’s postindustrial era.
Demography. The population was 49.5 million in 1998. The estimated nonwhite proportion of the population for that year was 7.3 percent, with the officially designated ethnic groups being black Caribbean, black African, black other, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Chinese.
Celtic in-migrations continues to be a major influence. These migrations are often urban in focus and tend to cluster in particular districts like London and Merseyside. The second important shift in demography from an ethnic standpoint is related to the end of the British Empire. Beginning in the 1950s, peoples from the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean began to immigrate to England, taking advantage of the 1948 British Nationality Act, which established that all Commonwealth citizens enjoyed British citizenship. Most of these immigrants have settled in London, the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Merseyside. Between 1984 and 1996, the number of nonwhites in England, Scotland, and Wales rose from 2.3 million to 3.39 million (the majority of whom lived in England) for a total increase of 47 percent. In that same period Great Britain grew by just 5.8 percent and England by even less. European, Mediterranean, and East Asian immigrants have been part of the cultural landscape since the Middle Ages, when the Jewish community came to prominence and Flemish clothworkers began arriving. Immigrants to England in particular have been drawn there by the creation of a Common Market in Western Europe and the ending of restrictions on the movement of eastern Europeans.
Linguistic Affiliation. The primary language since the sixteenth century has been some version of English. English, however, is an amalgam of languages brought to the British Isles by invasions that began before written history. The Celts made Gaelic the dominant language until the Romans invaded in 55 and 54 B.C.E. , and introduced Latin and Greek, but it was the invasion of England by Germanic tribes in the fifth century (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) that laid the basis for English. The arrival of Christianity in 597 allowed English to interact with Latin as well as with Greek, Hebrew, and languages as distant as Chinese. Viking invasions a few centuries later brought Scandinavian languages to the British Isles, while the Norman invasion in 1066 introduced French. Gradually, all levels of society adopted English, which had largely supplanted Latin and French in the second half of the fifteenth century.
Modern English comes from the East Midland dialect of Middle English. This divide between the East Midland dialect and all others emerged between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries when those speaking with a “proper” or “posh” accent separated themselves from those speaking “Cockney” or working-class English. This division is signified by the distinction between “received pronunciation” (r.p.), Standard English, or BBC English and regional or local dialects of English. This linguistic divide has always corresponded with social rank. The elite generally spoke with an r.p. accent (also known as the Queen’s or King’s English), and other residents spoke a non-standard, locally mediated English. In recent decades the connection between class and accent has begun to loosen.
Except in certain urban communities, bilingualism and multilingualism continue to play a minimal role in England. As of 1980 at least twelve languages other than English had more than 100,000 speakers in Britain, including Punjabi, Urdu, Caribbean patois, Hindi, and Cantonese, which are among England’s more influential second languages. In the last decade, the many varieties of spoken English have been thriving. Popular culture, especially music, radio, and television, has brought English creoles and patois; Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi English; and Celtic versions of English into the lives of the country’s inhabitants. Thus, while Standard English still holds sway, it is no longer an unquestioned standard.
Symbolism. From a political standpoint, the monarchy, Parliament, and the English (or British) constitution are central symbols with both physical and ritual manifestations. Equally powerful are the rituals surrounding Parliament’s routine. The monarchy expresses itself physically through the palaces and other residences of the royal family. Ritually, the monarchy permeates national life. From the social functions of the elite, which many people follow in the popular press, to the promotion of public causes, to royal weddings, the monarchy’s representatives lend an almost sacral quality to public life.
Images that capture England’s past have become a very important element in how people root themselves in a society that is increasingly mobile and in which the past has become a commodity. Idealizations of village and town life from bygone days are common in the speeches of politicians. Other idealizations of the past are equally popular, from the preserved industrial landscapes of the Midlands and the north, to nature walks that refer to the ancient peoples who inhabited the area long before the English arrived, to the appearance of the “English” countryside.
In recent years, popular culture has provided ways for England’s immigrants to claim Englishness publicly. Before World War II the majority population insisted that newcomers assimilate and migrants were unable to lay claims to Englishness. More integrated national sports, especially soccer, and sports heroes represent the new ethnic landscape and provide symbols the young and the poor can claim. Similarly, movies, pop music, and plays have given less powerful groups ways of claiming Englishness. Popular festivals such as the Notting Hill Carnival, which is Europe’s largest celebration of black identity, are also part of the mix. The New Commonwealth population also has produced widely read literary works.
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. The emergence of the nation took place between 1200 and 1850. The first period when a quasi-national feeling was able to unify the people was the Hundred Years’ War with France in the late Middle Ages (1337–1453). Although a dynastic conflict between successive English and French monarchs, this war became a cause in which Anglo-Saxon and Norman culture merged into a recognizably English culture.
In the sixteenth century, nationalism took on another component: anti-Catholicism. Henry VIII created the Church of England by tapping into popular sentiment against the Pope’s interference in national affairs. Elizabeth I, his daughter, created a sense of national unity through the conflicts she orchestrated with Catholic Spain. Another manifestation of anti-Catholic sentiment was the Battle of the Boyne in 1689, where William III routed Catholic opposition in Ireland. William subsequently affirmed Catholicism as being contrary to English and Irish law. Beginning with Scotland and Ireland in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and continuing with competitions with the Spanish, the Dutch, and the French between 1550 and 1816, the English established a sense of expansionary patriotism. The final step in creating a national sentiment was taken in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the middle classes defined Englishness as a positive morality to which everyone could subscribe.
National Identity. English cultural roots lie in a merging of Anglo-Saxon, Danish, and Norman French culture that has existed as a synthesis since the late Middle Ages. A process of negotiation was at the heart of this cultural creation.
Ethnic Relations. After stripping them of their assets, Edward I expelled the Jewish community in 1290, and Jews did not receive full rights and recognition until the twentieth century. The earliest guest workers, Flemish clothworkers, frequently found their contributions resented by “native” labor. German, French, and Low Countries Protestant refugees in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries were confronted with ethnic prejudices. The Irish as Celts and Catholics and the Welsh and Scots as Celts also have faced resentment, especially in eras dominated by English nationalism and British imperialism.
In the British Isles and abroad, the English record in colonized areas is no better than that of other European colonizing cultures. Beginning in the 1960s with the Immigration Acts and reaching a low point with the 1981 British Nationality Act, laws have been passed to restrict the rights of foreigners to enter the country and obtain citizenship and benefits. The support of Margaret Thatcher’s government for free-market capitalism contributed to the decline of the areas where most ethnic minorities lived, sparking violent protests in the 1980s, such as London’s Brixton riots in 1981. Antiracism legislation and the improving economy have lessened public and official attention to the nonwhite population. However, economic migrants and political refugees, chiefly from East Asia, eastern Europe, and Africa, have taken the place of the non-white populace as objects of public concern.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
England’s urbanism and notions of landscape and countryside are closely tied to the movement of people and economic sectors from major metropolitan areas into new towns, extensions of older towns, smaller towns, villages, and remote rural areas. Cities are thought of as places of decay and degeneration by many people. The central principle in definitions of urban communities is their management and containment; this has been done by designating rings of nondevelopment (green belts) around major cities and urban areas. The emphasis on areas of nondevelopment also has influenced planning within cities and towns, with space being created for private and public gardens, parks, athletic fields, and other so-called greenfield sites. There has also been an emphasis on arranging cities and towns in more livable units, with more thought to the placement of work sites, public amenities, shopping areas, and dwellings and more of a focus on how streets cater to public and private uses.
Villages and small towns that were fairly local or regional have become bedroom communities for large cities such as London or parts of larger regional urban networks. Sometimes they retain their original character, but more often affluent newcomers have changed these localities. Thus, while those in suburban, village, and small-town areas trumpet the rural nature of their lives, they have altered the rural landscape. Outside the towns and villages, two forces dominate the countryside: highly commercialized agriculture and preservation. Agribusiness has played a role in defining the countryside by destroying 95 percent of the nation’s wetlands. Countering the trend toward developing the countryside to accommodate more housing are the preservationists, who want to expand parks, preserve a traditional country way of life, and keep urban dwellers out of these areas. Left out of towns, cities, villages, and rolling hills are those with no money and no political voice. Those most excluded from current visions and proposals are the poor and the urban-dwelling ethnic minority groups.
Many different types of Englishness compete in towns, cities, villages, and the countryside. Architecturally, little is left from the Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Roman periods, although Roman town planning, roads, and walls are still evident and Anglo-Saxon churches and Celtic monuments are still standing. The Middle Ages have left Gothic and Romanesque architecture while the Tudor and Stuart periods of England’s history have also left their contributions, notably not just in buildings for the elite and the state but also for the middling sort. The eighteenth century saw Georgian and neo-Gothic architecture, which continued into the nineteenth century when neo-Classical styles arose. The twentieth century has seen the rise of suburban building styles and Modernism and reactions against both in the form of conservation, community architecture, and a tendency to revive old styles such as neo-Classicism.
Government buildings serve a range of symbolic purposes. Monuments more often symbolize particular historical figures or events. The purposes of public spaces also vary. The pews in a typical church promote an orderly separation between congregants while emphasizing togetherness as a congregation. Piccadilly Circus and many museums encourage people to mingle. Tea rooms, coffee shops, public houses, and nightclubs provide separate seating but promote a social atmosphere. People in England prefer to live in detached, suburban dwellings, ideally with a garden. First built in large numbers in the 1920s, many suburban houses were built in twos with a garden in front and rear. Another detached style was the single-story bungalow, which also became popular in the 1920s. Although in the post-war era it became common to build large, boxy modernist apartment blocks, especially for public housing, suburban building continued in additional new towns, some of which used the uniform, modernist styles. Since the 1980s more traditional designs for housing have been popular and both detached and non-detached housing have been constructed to evoke one of England’s past eras. In private dwelling spaces, the English tend to fill much of the available space.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. England is known for its bland cuisine. Traditional middle-class notions of diet put
meats at the heart of the main meal, which usually was eaten at midday. Along with this main course, there might be a dish such as a meat casserole, and fish also was consumed. Heavy sauces, gravies, soups and stews or puddings (savory and sweet), and pasties and pies also were eaten. Vegetables included potatoes and carrots, turnips and cabbage, and salad vegetables. Fruit was also part of the diet, though in small proportions. Lighter meals included variations of the sandwich. Breakfast foods ranged from hot cereals to tea, toast, and marmalade, to steak, eggs, and kidneys. These foods were not available to most people before World War II. The rural poor, for example, ate a diet based on cheese and bread, with bacon eaten a few times a week, supplemented by fresh milk if available, cabbage, and vegetables if a garden was kept. All the classes drank tea; beer was drunk by the working classes and other alcoholic beverages were drunk by the middle and upper classes.Since 1950, the English have eaten less red meat, more poultry, and about the same amount of fish. The consumption of fats is down, and that of alternatives such as margarine is up. Fresh fruits are in favor, while vegetables are not, and the focus is on salad vegetables. The main meal is now eaten in the evening and is likely to consist of frozen or ready-made food. In addition to eating out in pubs, inns, and restaurants, people consume fast food. There has been a dramatic increase in the variety of foreign cuisine, ranging from Chinese and Indian to French and Italian.
There are few food-related taboos. People avoid some foods for so-called hygienic reasons, such as onions and leeks, which can cause bad breath. There are also foods that are considered uncivilized. Traditionally, the English have never eaten dogs, horses, other carnivores, or insects. Increasingly, eating meat is looked on as uncivilized. As part of the shift away from meat toward fruit, vegetables, and fish, people have become more distanced from the production of the meat they eat and less willing to eat as wide a variety of meats.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Apart from cakes on birthdays, few special foods are eaten at major secular ceremonies, although such ceremonies involve toasting and drinking alcohol. In religious ceremonies, alcohol, usually wine, is common at most celebrations of the Eucharist in Christian churches and also is used at Jewish ceremonies. On Shrove Tuesday, which is both a secular and a religious occasion, many people eat pancakes.
Basic Economy. The economy is developed and highly specialized, and very few inhabitants produce food and other necessities for themselves. In 1998, approximately 13 percent of England’s workforce was self-employed, many working in agriculture, fishing, and construction. This group and the few among the economically inactive (21 percent in 1998) who have opted out of the market economy completely are the only people in England who may produce goods for themselves. Given that the majority of both groups are part of the regular economy, the number of people who are completely self-sufficient is small, although at times they are politically and culturally prominent. A rough sense of England’s dependence on the world can be gained by looking at trade figures as a proportion of GDP. In 1997 England’s exports amounted to about 29 percent of GDP, as did imports.
Land Tenure and Property. The most common form of land tenure is the owner-occupied house, with personal ownership in 1998 at 68 percent and the remainder of the inhabitants renting government-owned rent-controlled or private dwellings. Most dwellings are in urban areas, which occupied about 12 percent of the total land area in 1999. In that same year, 71 percent of England’s land was devoted to agriculture: 24 percent was rented and the remaining 47 percent was owned by resident farmers or farming enterprises. Legal rights to property have their origin in the period 1500–1800, when landholders enclosed land and claimed exclusive ownership of it. Their actions extinguished many customary use rights to land and established private claims to rights-of-way. In addition to this division between private and common land, many forms of public and semipublic land have developed. Roads, infrastructure, and official buildings are often public. Also subject to public control are the national parks and nature reserves. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are often in private hands but are under public supervision of the Countryside Agency. Public rights-of-way and common lands are often owned by individuals, but those owners may be obligated to ensure public access. The Department of the Environment, Transport, and the Regions oversees land use, working with local authorities, an arrangement in place since the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act.
Commercial Activities. In addition to manufacturing, the major sectors of the economy are financial services, wholesale and retail trade, communication technology, and education and social services.
Major Industries. The major areas of industrial output are textiles; food, beverages, and tobacco; paper, paper products, wood products; chemicals; metals and fabricated metal items; electrical and optical equipment; and transport equipment and other machinery.
Division of Labor. People with more experience still tend to hold positions with greater responsibility and rewards, but this situation has been changing since the 1970s. Increasingly, older workers are losing jobs because of business strategies to keep workforces small. This trend has hit older working class men particularly hard because the sectors in which they work are rapidly being shifted out of the economy. Ethnic prejudice, ageism, and sexism still prevent many people from advancing. Specialization, educational attainment, and status correspond fairly well, with managerial and professional groups being at the top of society, followed by white-collar workers and then skilled blue-collar workers and semi-skilled and unskilled manual laborers.
Classes and Castes. Class is the primary way in which people approach social stratification. The upper class (the landed gentry, the titled nobility, and members of the royal family) has roughly the same social position it has had since the nineteenth century, when the middle classes began to compete successfully with the landed interests for influence. However, the upper class lost official political influence (and credibility) in the twentieth century. The major change in England’s social identity structure has been the shrinking number of workers in manufacturing and the increasing number of people who work in service industries. White-collar and other service workers have replaced blue-collar workers as England’s economic backbone. Consequently, the middle class has increased in size and wealth, and home ownership has increased, while union membership has declined dramatically, along with the size of the traditional industrial working class.
Most workers expect unemployment at some point in their careers, especially the unskilled and uneducated. In 1983, only 5 percent of non-manual workers were unemployed. In contrast, skilled manual workers experienced 12 percent and semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers 23 percent unemployment, and manual workers combined accounted for 84 percent of the unemployed.
England is becoming a society of the included and the excluded. There has been a sharp rise in long-term unemployment. The nature of work in a fluid economy does not support long-term employment
for low-skilled and moderately skilled workers, and this is reflected in the rise in part-time (24.7 percent of the 1999 workforce), and multiple-job workers. Homelessness has become a fact of English life, with 102,410 families in England accepted as homeless in 1997 alone.The richest class has increased its share of the national income and national assets. In 1995, the wealthiest 10 percent of the population owned half the assets controlled by households. In 1997 the income of the top 20 percent of households was four times that of the bottom 20 percent. Meanwhile, those earning less than half of the median doubled between 1979 and 1998, reaching 10 percent.
Ethnic minorities have not fared well in the new economic environment. For all minority men, unemployment was 17 percent in the period 1986–1988, for example, compared with 10 percent for whites. Ten years on, in the period 1997–1998, unemployment rates of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and blacks were more than three times those for whites. Indians, on the other hand, have faired better, currently occupying a central position in the middle class as entrepreneurs and in the professions, enjoying chances of employment more comparable to whites.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Many of the traditional symbols of social difference have undergone change. Clothing and other consumer goods historically were indicators of class, but are now more ambiguous. Most consumer goods are widely available, and the clothing and fashion industries recycle styles so quickly that rank and clothing do not always correspond. Education, which used to be a clear way to divide people into classes, has also lost some of its defining power. Private primary and secondary schools increased their share of school age children through 1990, and higher education has expanded the number of places available to those who want postsecondary training; by the mid 1990s more than 30 percent of students age eighteen were attending a university. Oxford and Cambridge have been accepting students from an increasingly broad socioeconomic spectrum, and students now have many more universities to choose from. Accent also has become a less reliable class signifier.
Government. Unlike Scotland and Wales, England does not have a separate parliament or departments to represent and manage it. Contact with the central government is increasingly achieved through nine Government Offices for the Regions. Day-to-day life in the community is governed by local authorities such as district and parish councils.
Leadership and Political Officials. Political parties and institutions favor those judged to be respectable and, in senior positions, those with political experience. Thus, in the Conservative Party, only members of Parliament (MPs) can elect party leaders. It is still common for politicians and judges to have an elite education and a privileged background. Local politics is a mixed bag, with some local authorities and town and village councils politically polarized and others less so, although the larger the community the more likely it is to be dominated by the Labour Party. In general, those who participate in local politics and local organizations such as arts councils knew someone in government before becoming involved.
England has no national parties that affiliate specifically with the national culture. The main parties are the Labour Party (now often called New Labour), the Conservative Party (Tories), and the Liberal Democrats.
Access to political leaders is achieved most effectively through voluntary sector interest groups. These organizations work with local government authorities, local agencies such as the police, individual MPs, and central government ministries and may acquire an official role.
Social Problems and Social Control. For purposes of policing and criminal justice, England and Wales are treated as one unit. Policing is handled by forty-one locally organized police forces in addition to the Metropolitan Police Service and the City of London police force. Most police officers carry a nightstick, with only designated officers carrying sidearms. Persons suspected of committing a crime may be stopped and searched. More extensive searching is possible with authorization from a senior officer. For most crimes the police require judicial authorization to make arrests, but for “arrestable” offences such as murder, authorization is unnecessary. The maximum period of detention without a charge being leveled is ninety-six hours. The Police Complaints Authority handles cases of police brutality. The national policing bodies are the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. The Home Secretary of the United Kingdom has overall responsibility for policing in England as well as for the prison service, the probation service, and the criminal law.
Criminal law is a combination of statute law made by Parliament and common law (case law). Founded in 1985, the Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes criminals arrested by the police. The court system is adversarial, and the accused is defended by a lawyer (a solicitor or barrister) who attempts to disprove the case presented by the Crown Prosecution Service. Cases that go to Crown Court involve a trial by a jury of the accused person’s peers with guidance from the presiding judge. In all other cases not on appeal, the defendant is tried in magistrate court by a judge who decides the case with the assistance of a law clerk. The accused or the Crown may appeal a judgment to a higher court, with the highest court being the House of Lords. Except for treason and a few other offenses, the highest penalty is a custodial sentence.
Since the 1980s, ideas about the role of the criminal justice system have been changing, largely as a result of perceived and real increases in violent and property crimes. Local communities with their informal mechanisms for social control are considered an important part of criminal justice. Neighborhood watch schemes have become popular, and victim-offender mediation and reparation, community mediation, and neighborhood mediation have emerged. Police cautioning, in which juvenile offenders and their parents or guardians are informed of the seriousness of their offenses, has become popular. Parole boards administer the punishment of offenders in the community, and the police and other official agencies have formed partnerships with local communities and voluntary organizations. Some people are critical of the trend toward integrating informal social control into the official criminal justice apparatus. They argue that such social control may result in a culture divided into communities suspicious of outsiders. Others have noted that vigilantism, which plays a relatively small role in the culture (exceptions are street gangs, less organized groupings of males termed “the lads,” and soccer hooligans), may take root.
Military Activity. Military activity is administered through the armed forces of the United Kingdom, which are directed by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
Social welfare and change programs are directed toward people who cannot care for themselves (the elderly, children and youth, and the disabled), those in poverty, and those experiencing discrimination. Local government social services authorities provide for children and youth, the elderly, and the disabled, and there are advisory and regulatory bodies such as the National Disability Council and the Mental Health Act Commission. For the elderly, the disabled, and those with learning disabilities, major services include supervised residential and day care, help for those confined to the home, support services for family members caring for those individuals, and counseling. Increasingly, government policy has aimed services for the elderly, the disabled, and persons with learning disabilities at helping those people live at home and in the community. The mentally ill are treated locally, though since there are fewer places for the mentally ill in large hospitals, this has meant farming out patients to smaller hospitals and private and charity-supported facilities. Local authorities have the responsibility for child welfare, and provide aid to families such as advice, guidance, counseling, and day care. They also protect abused children and care for children without parents.
The poor and the unemployed receive support from the Department of Social Security (DSS). The major beneficiaries are the unemployed, families in need, those with short-term or long-term disability, widows, and elderly retirees. Since the early 1980s, more conditions have been placed on the receipt of DSS benefits, with the exception of the elderly and those unable to work. The unemployed,
for example, must demonstrate they are looking for work to receive benefits.Social change programs for ethnic minorities and women are in their infancy. There is a Race Equality Unit in the central government, and the 1976 Race Relations Act set up the Commission for Racial Equality that oversees over one hundred racial equality councils. These changes have not diminished ethnic inequality and tensions, although Britain has a minister for women, a Women’s Unit, and an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) as well as an umbrella group known as the Women’s National Commission.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
The Charity Commission for England and Wales registered 188,000 charities in 1998. Across the United Kingdom, charities employed 485,000 people and supervised three million volunteers in 1998. With the move toward privatization in the 1980s, charities became more important, but social and economic dislocation have made it difficult for them to maintain the social safety net. Nongovernmental organizations work with children and youth; marginalized or disadvantaged groups such as the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and those suffering from inequality; environmental conservationists; the science and technology sector; the arts; and the humanities.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender. Gender roles assign homemaking, other domestic activities, and most unpaid labor to women. A man’s sense of self is defined chiefly in terms of the paid work he can obtain. The impact of these constructions of gender is now much different than before, but is still felt in English society.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. Although there is no equal rights amendment, in recent decades there has been a more noticeable commitment to equality of opportunity for men and women through bodies such as the Equal Opportunity Commission and laws such as the Abortion Act of 1967 and the 1969 Divorce Act. The rate of women’s (especially married women’s) participation in the workforce increased in the late twentieth century, as did the nature of that participation. In 1971, only 57 percent of women of working age were economically active, but in 1998 that figure was 72 percent, whereas men’s participation declined from 91 percent to 84 percent. Despite their importance in the workforce, women earn only 80 percent of what men do. Women have been confined to lower-status work, are more likely to work part-time, and are under-represented in elite jobs. However, some women have obtained high-status, formerly male-dominated work, and the status of female-dominated work has risen. Women’s increasing participation in political life and their progress in religious roles in society—the rise of women MPs in the 1990s and the Church of England’s agreement to ordain women priests in 1994—may be an indication of this.
Women have probably made the least progress in the social sphere. They were the victims in 70 percent of cases of domestic violence in 1998, and women still perform most unpaid work, such as running households and raising children. Gender roles among particular subgroups, however, diverge from this picture. Some Muslim and Jewish women are more involved in the domestic sphere, and Afro-Caribbean community women are more likely to be employed and have a higher status than Afro-Caribbean men.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage. Among many members of the South Asian and Jewish communities, arranged marriages as a means of cementing family alliances are the norm. Most inhabitants, however, decide independently whom to marry, often choosing to cohabit with the partner before marriage. Social position, social aspirations, and informal social control drive the choice of a marriage partner. Thus, marriages across class lines are not common, especially among unskilled workers and the professional and managerial classes. Marriages across ethnic lines also are not common. As a reason for marriage, economic security is prominent, but so is the desire for sexual and social companionship. In 1997, about half the population over age sixteen was married. While marriage between a man and a woman remains the primary model for long-term relationships, it is not the only one. Same-sex unions and so-called blended families are increasingly common, and experimentation with forms of quasi-polygamy has taken place.
Domestic Unit. The basic domestic unit is a household headed by a married couple—a model that accounted for 59 percent of the households in 1998. Close to 73 percent of inhabitants live in a family headed by a couple (though not necessarily a married couple). It is uncommon for couples to live with the kin of either partner. Current gender roles dictate that men are the primary breadwinners and women are responsible for household management. Who actually controls the household on a daily basis, however, varies by household. Single-parent, usually female-headed households are on the rise, accounting for 9 percent of all households in 1998. The extended family is a visible and important social institution in the South Asian, Asian, Afro-Caribbean, and Jewish communities and still plays a role in the majority population. People living alone represented 28 percent of households in 1998.
Inheritance. Children rarely depend on inherited wealth to become independent and usually inherit movable property rather than real estate. When real estate is involved, it often consists of a home and the attached land, not agricultural land. Most people follow the principle of equal division of inherited wealth among offspring, with some favoritism toward biological offspring in blended families.
Kin Groups. People envision themselves as part of a set of interconnected families, the size of which varies with marital status and family traditions. Most people include three to four generations of people in their kin group. Those who are married count the same number of generations of the spouse’s family as part of their family. Kin groups do not have prominent status in society formally or informally. Notions of kinship involve a network of individuals who enter into kin relationships. The individual is not subsumed by the kin structure.
Infant Care. Good mothering entails stimulating an infant through play and other activities. Many other aspects of infant care are class-specific. For example, middle-class mothers are likely to breast feed babies and wean them early, while working-class mothers tend to use bottle feeding and wean infants later. Middle-class infants are more likely to sleep in a separate room in a crib than are their working-class peers. Working-class infants also are more likely to receive physical chastisement for crying. Working-class fathers are not likely to participate in the upbringing of infant children because of the difficulty of obtaining time off.
Child Rearing and Education. A good child is often termed well adjusted, as opposed to children who are shy, withdrawn, overly aggressive, or hyperactive. Typically, people see children’s behavior as the result of interactions with those around them, with the parents being the primary influence. Some children are viewed as having health problems that affect behavior, requiring medical intervention. There are two major areas of emphasis in child-rearing practices and beliefs. First, adults, particularly parents, need to teach children and young adults how to behave by setting limits to what they can and cannot do, teaching them how to solve conflicts and deal with others, and modeling good behavior. Second, adults should stimulate children to learn and be curious and creative to promote the growth of their mental capacities. Children are supposed to be well behaved but capable of interacting with their peers without shyness and should be curious and inquisitive as learners. Models for learning, teaching, and parenting involve intense interaction between teacher and learner and parent and child. Major secular initiation ceremonies for children and young adults revolve around the educational process and clubs. School graduation ceremonies are a primary rite of passage for most children and young adults. Hazing is used to initiate junior members of clubs, schools, and street gangs. There are three levels of schooling below the university level: preschool, primary school, and secondary school. Depending on the kinds of knowledge tested at the secondary levels, schools emphasize practical knowledge and problem solving as much as the mastery of a body of knowledge.
Higher Education. Government policy since the late 1950s has been aimed at expanding the opportunities for students to benefit from postsecondary education to create a more skilled workforce and increase social mobility. In the 1990s, more than 30 percent of all eighteen-year-olds were attending a university (up from under 5 percent in 1960), although the recent introduction of student fees may cause some to discontinue their education.
Etiquette is changing, but norms for appropriate behavior articulated by the elite and the middle class are still an important normative force. Greetings vary by the class or social position of the person with whom one is dealing. Those with titles of nobility, honorific titles, academic titles, and other professional titles prefer to be addressed by those titles, but like people to avoid calling too much attention to a person’s position. Unless invited to do so, one does not call people by their nicknames. Postural norms are akin to those in other Western cultures; people lean forward to show interest and cross their legs when relaxed, and smiles and nods encourage conversation. The English expect less physical expression and physical contact than do many other societies: handshakes should not be too firm, social kissing is minimal, loud talking and backslapping are considered inappropriate, staring is impolite, and not waiting one’s turn in line is a serious social blunder.
In conversation the English are known for understatement both in humor and in other forms of expression. On social occasions, small talk on neutral topics is appropriate and modest gifts are given. People reciprocate in paying for food and drink in social exchanges, by ordering drinks by rounds, for example. In public houses (bars), appropriate etiquette includes not gesturing for service. In restaurants it is important to keep one’s palms toward the waiter, and tips are in the range of 10 to 15 percent. Standard table manners include holding the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand, tipping one’s soup bowl away when finishing, and not leaning one’s elbows on the table. Deviations from these norms occur in ethnic subcultures and among the working class. These groups usually develop their own version of etiquette, appropriating some rules from the majority standard while rejecting others.
Religious Beliefs. In 1998, approximately 10 percent of the population claimed to be atheists and 15 percent said they were agnostics, while 20 percent said they believed in God. In 1991, about 25 percent of inhabitants claimed to believe in astrology and good luck charms, and 42 percent believed in fortune-telling and faith healing. The major religious traditions are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism. In recent decades, so-called pagan or cult religions have included Wicca, shamanism, heathenism, druidry, goddess religion, the Unification Church, and Transcendental Meditation.
Religious Practitioners. Christian leaders derive power and authority from their control and dispensation of sacraments. Jewish rabbis and Islamic imams derive their authority from their mastery of a specific set of religious legal texts and the application of those texts to everyday life. Hinduism relies on a wide variety of texts, and traditionally its primary leaders gain authority from their caste position as well as from their adherence to specific ascetic rules and, especially in the case of gurus, their perceived connection to the divine. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion with a single set of texts, and ideally Sikhs associate themselves with a guru who helps believers achieve spirituality. In the most popular form of Buddhism (Mahayana), monks and teachers hold spiritual authority by virtue of their ascetic way of life and mastery of certain texts. In the various forms of Buddhism, monks and teachers hold spiritual authority by virtue of their ascetic way of life, their mastery of certain texts, and their leadership of worship ceremonies. Modern paganism often envisions its priests as deriving their power through a unique connection to the hidden forces in nature. Leaders of other movements rely on charisma or the attractiveness of the skills they teach.
Rituals and Holy Places. Christians celebrate an annual cycle of rituals that vary by denomination. Most celebrate Christmas and Easter and attend services in a church on Sunday. Judaism has particular days of celebration, such as Passover, and weekly services on Saturdays in a synagogue. Islam has special celebrations (the month of Ramadan) and weekly attendance at worship services in a mosque
on Fridays. In Hinduism worship is a daily activity, often taking place at the household shrine but also at the local temple. There are festivals and feasts to honor individual deities (Ram Navami) and particular occasions in the year (e.g. Divali); some are yearly, others weekly and fortnightly. For Sikhs, regular worship at the temple is important, but there are no days that are particularly holy; Sikhs worship on Sunday. For Buddhists, worship is done both at home and at religious centers and occurs on a weekly basis; the birth of the Buddha is an important occasion that is celebrated. Alternative religions vary in where they worship, how often, and on what days.Death and the Afterlife. In the early 1990s, about 25 percent of the population believed in life after death, although there is a wide range of practices around death. For a majority of the population, ideas about the afterlife are based on typical Victorian notions that are reinforced on television and in film: a place where life is better and those who have lived a good life are rewarded. For most people, funerals have become much cleaner, with the deceased meticulously prepared and cleaned before burial. Cemeteries are kept pristine and immaculate. Others, however, feel that the dead are very much among the living in photographs, videos, and other visual mementos. People used to remember the dead in a yearly cycle of religious days, but with the geographic spread of families, family occasions have become the occasions to recall them. There are organizations that promote awareness of how to die, from living wills to hospice care to palliative measures and euthanasia.
Medicine and Health Care
Since 1946, most people have obtained health care from a physician or other specialist attached to the National Health Service (NHS), a government-controlled and government-funded health care system. Although in the 1980s and early 1990s there were attempts to introduce market-driven principles into the NHS, and the number of privately insured inhabitants has risen; the NHS retains the principles of free services at the point of delivery, and the current Labour government has rescinded many of the measures intended to manage healthcare by market principles.
Most people believe in an approach to medicine that focuses on particular problems and illnesses as opposed to overall wellness. In this type of medicine a patient sees a medical specialist when a health complaint arises. The doctor diagnoses the problem on the basis of the patient’s physical symptoms and either prescribes a treatment or sends the patient to a more specialized doctor. In recent years, a very different set of approaches to medicine and health (complementary medicine) has been informed by non-Western traditions such as traditional Chinese medicine and nonstandard approaches such as herbal lore. Rather than trying to cure a specific ailment, practitioners of complementary medicine attempt to restore the well-being of the patient’s entire mind and body, often by tapping the body’s capacities to heal itself. Examples of complementary medicine are acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage therapy, and healing touch.
New Year’s Eve and Day (31 December, 1 January), celebrate the beginning of the new year. April Fool’s Day (1 April), is a day on which people play practical jokes on one another. The sovereign’s birthday is celebrated in June. Guy Fawkes’s Day (5 November) commemorates the foiling of a 1605 Catholic plot to blow up the houses of Parliament and is an occasion for fireworks and revelry. Remembrance Day (11 November) celebrates the contributions of war veterans to defending the freedom of the nation.
The Arts and Humanities
Support for the Arts. In addition to artists’ earnings, support for the arts derives from the government, chiefly through the Arts Council and business and private philanthropic sources.
Literature. The elaboration of an expressly English literature began in the medieval period with Geoffrey Chaucer and continued into the Renaissance and then into the Restoration with William Shakespeare, John Milton, and John Dryden. During those periods, drama and poetry were the major literary forms, with popular literature shading into song, cartoons, and storytelling.
The eighteenth century is notable for the emergence of new literary forms such as the novel, the true crime tale, light opera, magazines, and new oral traditions associated with England’s port districts. Regionalized music and storytelling from this era still provide the foundation for much currently performed folk music in England.
The nineteenth century is the age of the Romantics and the Victorians. Artists in both movements were social realists, with the Romantics known for recovering older forms and the Victorians known for highly elaborate language. Popular literature offered the penny dreadful and a profusion of magazines that published novels and other literary work serially. New oral traditions sprang up around labor protest movements such as those of the Luddites and Chartists.
In the twentieth century, writers born in England shared the stage with Commonwealth writers such as Derek Walcott, V.S. Naipaul, and Nadine Gordimer and with other non-English writers such as James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, and Alice Walker. The twentieth century also saw the continuance of the phenomenon of Anglicized émigré writers such as T. S. Eliot. Edwardians such as E. M. Forster and moderns such as D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf dominated the period 1900–1950. Edwardians extended Victorian approaches, and moderns worked in older forms such as the novel and helped develop the short story.
Since World War II, the efforts of writers to stretch the bounds of genres expanded. Poetry is now performed in the form of hip-hop music or at poetry slams, while written poetry may be rooted in jazz and has lost prominence. Drama has flourished, as have filmed versions of classic and contemporary works. Novels focus on the everyday and the autobiographical, a reflection in part of women’s influence on literature.
Graphic Arts. Most training of graphic artists is provided by universities and art colleges. Art has been incorporated into the school curriculum as part of the nation’s educational policy, and all English students receive some training in and exposure to the graphic arts. In 1997 and 1998, 22 percent of the population over age 15 visited a gallery, museum, or other major collection, a figure that has shown little change since the late 1980s. Whether museums are egalitarian in terms of affordability and relevance, however, is debatable. The National Disability Arts Forum and similar organizations are funded by the Arts Council of England and improve access to the arts and training in the arts for the disabled population; the Arts Council promotes cultural diversity as well.
Performance Arts. The Royal Shakespeare Company and musical productions in London’s West End are well attended. Musical productions range from orchestras such as the London Philharmonic to jazz, rock, and folk music. Dance forms range from classical ballet to free-form club dancing. Ticket prices limit attendance at elite forms of performance art, although statistics show that in the last decade their audience has not decreased in size.
The State of the Physical and Social Sciences
England supports research and teaching in all areas of science and the social sciences. The government funds most scientific and social scientific research. Larger private corporations and private foundations are also major players. The research sector develops applications for basic primary research in a range of fields. With a long tradition of empirical inquiry, English scholars have often been active in applied science.
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