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Relevance and Evolution of British Culture in Contemporary Society

1. Introduction

The notion of Britishness signified the British culture of personifying the nation, the ways of living and identifies of the British citizens. This concept of Britishness has been representing an exclusive culture confined to those that or who are British. However, such British culture has gone through developments given the characteristics of multiculturalism.

The current essay will examine whether or not British Culture is still important and relevant in today’s modern society. For this purpose, the essay will touch upon the area of British film, art or architecture, British governance and the monarchy and their influence on British culture, Brexit and the Scottish referendum.

The essay will conclude with a summary of the discussion and a conclusion as to the question in hand.

2. The idea of Britishness

From the late 19th century to the late 20th century, monarchy was treated as being central to British national identify. Thus, monarchy became intertwined with the reality and concept of the British empire. They are the considered the foundation of the idea of Britishness (Ward, 2004, p.14).

Britishness has different boundaries. The first is the civic boundary which makes citizenship as the primary criterion of nationality. The second is the racial boundary which defines a person as British if they are of British ancestry or ‘blood’. The third is the cultural boundary which treates Britishness a matter of the culture, lifestyle or values that are adhered by people (Jacobson, 2004). This concept of Britishness is exclusive given the current multiculturalism in existence. It has been a long-held multi-culturalist goal to make the idea of Britishness more inclusive (Uberoi & Modood, 2013).

Around the 1960s, culture was governed by the state and was closely associated with improvement and education. This concept was known as “Arnold position” names after Matthew Arnold, which saw culture as work and practice of artistic and intellectual activity. Christopher (2015) observes that much has changed now. In current time, culture encompasses wider range of elements. It includes specialised and popular, media, and practices of different communities and of the country. The way one sees culture has changed now. Currently, it involves discussing the work, its origin, the interests it serves, public reaction and reason for marginalisation of popular practices. Now, it focuses on roles of art play in entertainment and information (Christopher, 2015, p.30). This finds similarity in observation by Uberoi & Modood (2013) earlier. The current perception of culture is inclusive. There is a range of varied characteristics that are attached to the British culture. In this regard, it may be right that the British culture is not relevant today. Alternatively, it can be viewed as an evolutionary process where the current form of culture is an evolved version of the older British culture.

3. Different aspects of British culture
3.1. British film/art/architecture

Culture is about the ways arts are expressed. The Beatles or Shakepeare’s plays are considered a part of folk or popular culture, particularly overseas (Christopher, 2015, p.xiv). They were preformed in ways and places that may not be likely in today’s time. Art forms have evolved and survived through deviation, selection and competition. Status accorded to them also changed gradually. For instance, the municipal modernism that occurred in the 1960s was derided as ugly and brutal. Now, they are put to aesthetic re-evaluation. Because of the changes undertaken, many of their status have become listed historical landmarks. As such, the British culture then cannot be completely discarded as being non-relevance. They are relevant in a different form and status (Christopher, 2015, p.xv).

The shift in form and size could also be seen in movie culture. Lewis (1990) observed that the advent of television started of the home-based consumer culture. People increasingly spent time and money at home. Industrialisation created a working class who had more time and financial surplus. The rise in cost to go to cinema coupled with the problem of fewer cinemas also contributed. The decline in local cinema affected working class cinema goers. There seems to be a policy-based reasoning behind such decline. Most of the cinema goers are from exclusive middle case cinema goers, creating an exclusive middle class cinema culture. This represents the problem of segregation between people and classes (Lewis, 1990, pp.70-73). Given this observation, if one break down this movie culture into cinema and television, the argument would favour the view the cinema culture has lesser relevance in today’s time. This is one side of the argument. The other side could be that if viewed as movie culture and not as cinema culture, there is a shift in the culture. It is now more divisive in nature with the educated, richer middle class having access to cinema culture and the working class confined to television culture.

Similar evolution from the traditional culture is seen in the advent of pop culture. This culture captured more real features and personal expressions of subjects. For instance is the work of Lucian Freud, who is described as a realist as his subjects of paintings were often his close ones. Another example is that of Richard Hamilton, whose ‘pop’ work “Just what is it that makes today’s home so different, so appealing?’. Pop art culture became fashionable then in the 1960s. It later changed to abstract version in the 1980s where work of John Bellany, Adrian Visniewski, and Ken Currie became well know. Late 1980s saw works of used materials in empty warehouses instead of galleries. This trend began in 1988 with the exhibition Freeze by Damien Hirst’s. The shift in the form and manner in which arts are made or expressed expressly shows a change in the British culture (Christopher, 2015).

3.2. British governance and the monarchy and their influence on British culture

The idea of monarchy has impacted British culture so far. British monarchy has seen the popular and the unpopular times. It survived as it finds relevance outside the country, which treats it as quintessentially British. Childs (2016) observes that the British monarchy represents an ideal British family, representing moral and a high standard of family values associated with a close, loving and harmonious family relationship. It has been upheld rigorously by the press (Childs, 2016, p.23). The monarchy also influences the rural and regional base. Its ceremonial structure, such as the Caernarforn Castle of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales or royal estates is another example (Childs, 2016, p.24). Does this mean it still represents the values they are meant to represent? No. The media, which was upheld the status of the British Monarchy, are now critical. There has been erosion of the popularity of the royal family. This may demonstrate that the notion of the state that once lie with the monarchy may no longer hold true (Childs, 2016, p.24).

The view that the popularity of the royal family has reduced could also be found in the observation of Bradley (2012). He observed that the role of monarchy has lesser relevance as to the national identity and the notion of being British. This is another side of the earlier view represented in the press that the Monarch must be more secular for its survival. While debating about national identify, more focus than the monarchy was paid to social cohesion and common identify being disrupted by immigration, political separatism and the goal of multiculturalism (Bradley, 2012, p.245). Irrespective of the above observation, media fascination about the royal family cannot be compared with none (Childs, 2016, p.24).

The rule of law influences culture. Legal culture is a part of the general culture, including customs, opinion, and practices. It emphasises on a mix of ideas and behavioural patterns (Cotterrell, 2006, p.83). Law plays the role of protecting the cultural heritage, including historic site, arts, local film industries, national and minority cultures and use of national languages (Cotterrell, 2006, p.102). As in the UK, Parliament is the supreme. Law makers can influence and shape the culture. Governments can influence worldviews and ideologies. For example, it is alleged that Thatcher made irreversible changes to British political culture (Perri 6, 1997). Government can also promote culture. For example, in the field of cinema, the UK Film Council promotes cinema by allocating public funds (Smith et al., 2010, p.96). Government’s way of regulation changed over the year. Earlier, economic regulation was tighter. It is redefined to promote competition. In the field of television, the government has the role of transitioning television to fully digital services and reviewing public broadcasting to suit the market (Smith et al., 2010, p.173). This is especially relevant with how the television culture started, as discussed earlier. Such governance is necessary to develop a mass movie culture with access to mass public. For example, BBC service was started in 1936 and it contributed to a unified British Culture (Smith et al., 2010, p.171).

3.3. Brexit and Scottish Referendum

Brexit is argued to be the final expression of a culture war. Recent decades have been seeing the development of this war. The war comprises a debated between the leavers and the remains. The former labelled the latter as unpatriotic and the latter labelled the former as stupid (Taylor, 2017, p.59). The relevant referendum related to Brexit triggers hate and racist crimes against ethnic and migrant minorities (Taylor, 2017, p.60). It led to neo-liberalism as well as authoritarian nationalism with the rise in right wing politics and use of Islamophobia for electoral gains (Taylor, 2017, p.62). The toxic political environment contributed to a toxic political culture. It contributed to a divide or segregation between the political elite and large parts of the UK. The declining voters’ turnout and support for mainstream political parties, the increasing support for right wings, and increasing anger and frustration are all signs of this divide (Taylor, 2017, p.65).

Pabst (2016) observes that Brexit represents a struggle between post liberals and libertarian forms of identity. She observed that Brexit is a move from remote bureaucracy, multiculturalism and mass immigration towards self-governance and protection of settled ways of life. There is no struggle between left or right as they now form part of the same liberal logic. There is now a fusion of economic and social liberalism (Pabst, 2016, p.190). However, the struggle does not seem to understand the socio-cultural complexity associated with Brexit. Taylor (2017) observes that it represents a narrow view of the socio-economic terms, which sees blames Brexit on the “white working class” who has a negative attitude towards immigrants as it goes against economic interests. However, such view disregards the material deprivation of the marginal groups (Taylor, 2017, p.71). It focuses on the view that such marginal immigrant deprived groups threaten the notional of national culture (Taylor, 2017, p.67). This culture, as such, represents the notion of Britishness. However, Britishness, as is seen so far, has inculcated a new features, which is that of multiculturalism and accessible and defined by the popular mass.

Brexit is an independence movement, which may be signified as revival of the British culture. given this view, whether or not the movements before the 2014 Referendum on Scottish Independence could be considered to have some cultural basis is a point to ponder. It is observed that anti-independence movements cannot be cultural. It lacks British culture. Britain arises from temporal adjustment and not from present experience (Gardiner, 2015, p.44). The 2014 Referendum on Scottish Independence settled that Scotland remains with UK. Craig (2016) Scotland is unique. The notion of nationalism is missing. It has been easily accessing resources of the British empire since the union of 1707. Scotland has advanced according to its precepts and less dependence on EU. Its distinctive Scottish culture is recognised across the globed. Even the British Empire also helped in defining its uniqueness. (Craig, 2016).


Britishness is associated with monarchy and its central role in the notion of the nation. It represented an exclusive culture. The recent multi-culturalist commitment of the government is a sign of evolution undergoing by British culture. For instance is the transition from Arnold position to the expansive role of art in entertainment and information. Perception of culture is now more inclusive

The change in form and size could also represent the segregation between the elite and the general population. This was seen in the advent of the TV culture. A pattern could thus be drawn that the British culture either represents the elite class or the Britishness, which represents the notion of the monarchy and the nation. Monarchy and the state governance have roles in influencing British culture. The idea of monarchy and its representation of British culture are globally and domestically recognised. However, the popular perception is different now. This does not mean they are irrelevant. The Queen exemplifies British identify. However, the idea of secular, multiculturalism must be given due consideration now. It is reflected in the governance as well.

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Brexit could be seen as a means of preserving the Britishness. It calls for self-governance. Brexit cannot aim for advancing uniqueness now just as what Scotland has done for itself. The richness of British culture lies in recognising and preserving the current multiculturalism in existence.

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  • Childs, P., 2016. British Cultural Identities. Taylor & Francis.
  • Christopher, D.P., 2015. British Culture: An Introduction. Taylor & Francis.
  • Cotterrell, P.R., 2006. Law, Culture and Society: Legal Ideas in the Mirror of Social Theory. Ashgate Publishing Limited.
  • Craig, C., 2016. Unsettled will: cultural engagement and Scottish independence. Observatoire de la société britannique, 18 , pp.15-36.
  • Gardiner, M., 2015. Time and Action in the Scottish Independence Referendum. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Jacobson, J., 2004. Perceptions of Britishness. Nations and Nationalism, 3(2), pp.181-99.
  • Lewis, J., 1990. Art, Culture and Enterprise (Routledge Revivals): The Politics of Art and the Cultural Industries. Routledge.
  • Pabst, A., 2016. Brexit, post-liberalism, and the politics of paradox. Telos, pp.189-201.
  • Perri 6, 1997. Holistic Government. Demos.
  • Smith, C., Storey, J. & Higgins, M., 2010. The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Culture. Cambridge University Press.
  • Taylor, G., 2017. Understanding Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union. Emerald Publishing Limited.
  • Uberoi, V. & Modood, T., 2013. Inclusive Britishness: A multiculturalist advance. Political studiea, 61(1), pp.23-41.
  • Ward, P., 2004. Britishness Since 1870. Routledge.

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