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Representing, Resisting and Reproducing Ethnic Nationalism: Official UK Labour Party accounts of ‘multicultural Britain’ Susan Condor Department of Psychology, University of Lancaster, UK. Talk summary. Discourse designed to resist ethnic nationalism:

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Representing, Resisting and Reproducing Ethnic Nationalism:Official UK Labour Party accounts of ‘multicultural Britain’Susan CondorDepartment of Psychology,University of Lancaster,UK

talk summary
Talk summary
  • Discourse designed to resist ethnic nationalism:

Two political speeches on ‘multi-cultural Britain’

  • Complexity: Dilemmatic aspects due to tacit adoption of a ‘banal nationalist’ frame of reference
    • Presuppose that nations are normally racially and culturally ‘pure’
    • Promotion of the value of British ethnic diversity as a form of insular nationalism
representing britain as a multicultural society
Representing Britain as a ‘multicultural society’

The first point I would like to get across is that Britain is without doubt a multicultural society. This strikes you as soon as you arrive in the UK.

Switch on the television and you will see ethnic minority newsreaders, political commentators and writers; comedians, soap opera stars and opera singers; fashion designers and models, footballers and dancers. British culture is a hybrid, born of the talents creativity and styles of many different groups – White, Black, Asian and other minorities. The result is a unique proof of how diversity enriches our society and our lives.

multiculturalism as a political project
Multiculturalism as a political project

Moral imperative:

Webelieve that one of the greatest responsibilities we have is to try to make Britain a fairer place; a place where people of every race and religion feel themselves to be an equal part of the whole.

A society which makes a celebration out of the fact that we are multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-racial; one which not just assimilates people but celebrates people’s differences.”

multiculturalism as a political project5
Multiculturalism as a political project

Economic and military imperative:

We should welcome [ethnic] pluralism as a unique asset for Britain in a modern world where our prosperity, our security and our influence depend on the health of our relations with other peoples around the globe.

representing multiculturalism
Representing multiculturalism


Tolerance: inclusive

internationalist (pro-EU)

Temporal: contemporary, ‘a modern version of national identity’

Ethnic nationalism=

Intolerance: exclusive


‘narrow minded nationalism’ (anti-EU)

Temporal: anachronistic / Imperial

british unity in diversity strategies of national objectification
“British unity in diversity”Strategies of national objectification:
  • Avoid reference to national character or way of life
  • Culinary metaphors
  • Idiom of geography (‘the island’)
  • Diversity as eternal fact (vs. contemporary value)
anchoring images of unity in diversity the narrative of waves of foreigners
Anchoring images of unity in diversity:The narrative of ‘waves of foreigners’

“[Britain] has always been a nation of island people from diverse origins - by 1066, when we were invaded for the last time by the Normans, we had already been subject to invasion and settlement by the Romans, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Vikings, and Norse. Immigrants arrived in significant numbers from Europe during the late 19th century. The first group of Jamaicans arrived in 1948 and were followed by tens of thousands more, from the Caribbean, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The 70s and 80s also saw the arrival of the Hong Kong Chinese and refugees from Vietnam.”

Does resistance to a racialized understanding of “British society” challenge the ideology of ethnic nationalism?
ethnic nationalism as the norm
Ethnic nationalism as the norm

The existence of ethnic diversity within a state requires explanation

  • The ‘modernisation’ repertoire

Presupposes that nations are originally culturally homogenous.

  • The ‘immigration’ repertoire

Presupposes that diversity can only arise from transnational migration

british ethnic diversity as exceptional
British ethnic diversity as exceptional

”In the pre-industrial era Britain was unusually open to external influence. It is not their purity that makes the British unique, but the sheer pluralism of their ancestry.”

Does resistance to ethnic or cultural definitions of ‘British society’ necessarily entail resistance to ‘insular nationalism’?
nationally circumscribed boundaries of us
Nationally-circumscribed boundaries of “us”
  • “diversity enriches our society and our lives”
  • “a positive force for our economy and society”
  • “our prosperity, our security”
our diversity as a competitive advantage over other eu nations
‘Our diversity’ as a competitive advantage over other (EU) nations

“Our diversity is one of the reasons why Britain continues to be the preferred location for multinational companies setting up in Europe. The national airline of a major European country has recently relocated its booking operation to London precisely because of the linguistic variety of the staff whom it can recruit here. Today’s London is a perfect hub of the globe. It is home to over 30 ethnic communities of at least 10,000 residents each. In this city tonight, over 300 languages will be spoken by families over their evening meal at home. This pluralism is an immense asset that contributes to the cultural and economic vitality of our nation.”

Moscovici (1981 p. 191)

Social representations create a ‘reassuring impression of something we have “seen before” and “known before”’

“This, then, is England’s peculiarity, a firm island unity imposed upon and embracing the most extreme racial variety anywhere to be found within such limits in all the world.”

(Dixon, The Englishman, 1938)

“The peoples and races we know, the inhabitants of the world today, are without exception, mixed races and peoples”

(Dixon, 1938)

“Our strength is our diversity.In this empire of ours these are nearly as many blacks as there are whites, and three times as many browns … the British empire includes as many Chinese as there are in Peking, and six times as many Arabs as there are in all Arabia. No other nation on Earth can match this.”

How the Empire Grew

Social representations constitute complex and interconnected fields of discourse and practice: this is as true of anti-racist as racist discourse.
  • Resistance to racialized or ethnicized representations of ‘society’ may tacitly presuppose a nationally-specific frame of reference, implicitly restricting our understanding of who ‘we’ are and who we are ‘for’
  • Resistance to racialized or ethnicized representations of (one) ‘society’ need not challenge the ideology of ethnic nationalism per se
  • Far from necessarily entailing a commitment to internationalism, resistance to racialized or ethnicized representations of one (‘our’) society may be employed for the purposes of national self-assertion.