British Cultural Studies: An Overview

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2010

10 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents

1 Own discussion and analysis of the term "culture"

2 The United Kingdom - four countries or only one
Different Roots
A Political Union

3 Television in Britain
The Soap Operas' Popularity
The Setting
British Social Realism
Cast And Characters

4 Developing Cultural Awareness
Teaching Unit On Notting Hill Carnival
The Beginning
Collecting Previous Knowledge
Gallery Walk
Discussion With A Partner


1. Own discussion and analysis of the term "culture"

A large number of people believe that everything that is man - made can be seen as culture. Moran leaves no doubt about those products' importance, when he writes: ”Products, the visible dimension of culture, are the gateway to the new culture, the new way of life” (p. 48). But are there only architecture, paintings, literature, music, language, and food which come to mind if we think of a country's culture? The iceberg model shows that these aspects represent only a small amount of culture that, just like the visible section of an iceberg above the waterline, can be seen easily and understood clearly. However, there are a lot more facets, also like an iceberg, that can only be suspected or imagined. These parts of the iceberg are its foundation and the iceberg model makes clear that it is impossible to understand people from different cultural backgrounds, unless we are able to appreciate what the foundations of their culture are. But no matter how many different definitions of the term "culture" exist, a lot of them cover problems concerning the human beings and their life in a community. This implies that we can't learn about another country's culture by reading a lot of books about it, but we need the encounter with another way of life. In that way, culture can also be seen as a concept which regulates the interpersonal cohabitation of human beings in a collective. This collective does not have to be a country by all means, but can also be a group of people with the same interests. If some people who are fond of a special musical genre such as goth, pool together, they have their own culture, too and it is not necessary that they live in the same country. But it is not merely the music that connects them, but rather "shared interpretations about beliefs, values, and norms, which affect the behaviors" (Lustig, Koester, 2003, p. 27) and influence the way their thinking is organized.

As well as from different communities, such values and norms can also be passed from one generation to another. Especially views about the importance of time, concepts of beauty, child raising beliefs, and rules of social etiquette can differ from one culture to another and are interpreted differently. If a foreigner does not know this other view of the world, it is sometimes very difficult for him to become part of the new culture. Consequently it is essential that we become clear that it is impossible to understand another country's culture if we only try to build our cultural understanding on our own view of the world and stereotypical perceptions. Confucians say that "Human beings draw close to one another by their common nature, but habits and customs keep them apart". To solve this problem, the main point is to be open - minded and to accept other countries' attitudes.

2. The United Kingdom - four countries or only one

The consideration of the term culture is also an important one if we think about the United Kingdom. As the name implies it is a union between four countries that are

England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. But why do the Scots and the Welsh as well as the people from Northern Ireland often define themselves in terms of their individual nationalities, rather than as British?

Different Roots

Perhaps the answer can be found in the British Isles' history. Oakland makes clear that there was a big wave of immigration in former times because it was relatively easy to get free access to Britain. Due to this fact, the people who live in Britain nowadays have different roots from all over the world (2006, p. 69). Brisk argues that “one's history is defined not only by where one was born and where one grew up but also by the history of one's ancestors” (2008, p. 36). As a consequence the people from Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have indeed the same language, but different accents and disparate values and norms of which they are proud. This is mainly the case because they make them unique and only in that way they are able to contrast themselves from England and forget “England's hegemony over the rest of the British Isles” (Morley, Robins, 2001, p. 41). Furthermore ethnic minorities such as Black Caribbeans, Pakistanis or Bangladeshis came to Britain a long time ago and some of them retained their own culture, as well (Oakland, 2006, p. 52). They are all proud of what they are and their heritage.

So there has always been a difference between the people of the British Isles.


But then what about the term “Britishness”? Is it a term with no meaning? As I said, there are a lot of differences among the British Isles' population, but in his speech in 2007 Gordon Brown, Great Britain's Prime Minister, pointed out that despite some cultural differences, there is also a common culture which is shared by the whole population of Great Britain. He gave points to his words when he said: “Britain has something to say to the rest of the world about the values of freedom, democracy and the dignity of the people that you stand up for.” It sounds good, but in my opinion it is only a constructed Britishness because a lot of other countries have the same values about freedom and dignity as well and they are not British either. Britishness today is a vague term and almost only used for political reasons.

A Political Union

Maybe Great Britain's politics is one of the few things all inhabitants of Briton really have in common.

On the one hand, Britain is a constitutional monarchy which means that the Queen is head of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and reigns “without executive powers under constitutional limitations” (Oakland, 2006, p. 86) at the same time. Additionally each of the four countries is governed by the UK Parliament and the UK government in many areas. On the other hand Delanoy and Volkmann highlighted that some political changes, especially those in 1998, caused questions about what holds Britain together. (2006, p. 38). It is a justified question because due to the devolution of parliaments for Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland in 1998, these countries can decide about affairs like “education, health, transport, environment, home affairs and local government”, on their own (Oakland, 2006, p.84). This means that even in the politics there are very few things left that accomplish a connection between the UK's four countries.


In my opinion the UK can rather be seen as four countries than as one. Each citizen of the UK has indeed a British citizenship, but this does not mean that they have a British identity as well. In most instances the English, Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish people are of the opinion that they have different cultural and national identities mainly because their ancestors developed their own customs and their own way of life. Today these differences keep them apart and make four countries out of a former union. The few similarities,the four countries have in common, like the same language or the same head of state cannot help to reunite them due to the fact that the UK's inhabitants are highly aware of their differences.


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British Cultural Studies: An Overview
University of Education Heidelberg
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Sabrina Habermann (Author), 2010, British Cultural Studies: An Overview, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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