British Subjects: An Anthropology of Britain

British Subjects: An Anthropology of Britain

British Subjects: An Anthropology of Britain

British Subjects: An Anthropology of Britain


The anthropology of Britain is hotly debated. What does it mean to live in Britain and to be 'British', and is an anthropology of Britain even a legitimate undertaking? British Subjects presents a forthright voice in this debate. Key anthropological concerns such as community, rationality, aesthetics, the body, power, work and leisure, nationalism and transnationalism are found reflected in the lives of a wide range of British 'subjects'--from farmers to dancers, children to retired miners, new-agers to entrepreneurs.In disputing traditional claims that anthropology 'at home' and 'of one's own' is misconceived, unnecessary or unperceptive, this book clearly establishes that an anthropology of Britain can set excellent standards of subtle ethnography and complex analysis.Providing a nuanced appreciation of the intricacies of British society, this book shows how the anthropological study of Britain can offer an enlightening paradigm for the study of individual lives.


‘Best of British!’: an Introduction to the
Anthropology of Britain
Nigel Rapport

[T]he human condition actually is more or less a constant: always in face of the same mysteries, the same dilemmas, the same temptation to despair, and always armed unexpectedly with the same energy.

John Berger A Telling Eye

Three Tenets

The anthropological study of modern-day Britain was, with the partial exception of the Mass Observation project between the two World Wars (and since), originally the province of geographers (Alwyn Rees, Life in a Welsh Countryside (1951); Bill Williams, The Sociology of an English Village: Gosforth (1956) and A West Country Village: Ashworthy (1963)) and sociologists (Michael Young and Peter Wilmott, Family and Kinship in East London (1957); Norman Dennis et al., Coal is our Life (1956)). I will not rehearse here the reasons for this tardiness of disciplinary appreciation, but suffice it to say that this volume attends to a seachange: the anthropological study of Britain can now call on a host of names, senior and junior in the profession, to swell its list of studies.

By an anthropology of ‘Britain’ I mean Great Britain, not the United Kingdom. That is, I include Wales, England and Scotland but I leave out Northern Ireland, for Northern Ireland (the island of Ireland per se) seems to have been accorded a sociocultural specificity by the armed struggle which has largely characterized the twentieth century's British—Irish relations both before the partition of 1921 into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State and since. While an ‘anthropology of Britain’ engenders a certain broad sociocultural accounting, the inclusion of Ireland significantly alters the focus of this writing (narrows it, paradoxically) by seeming to demand that the yet-to-be-resolved ‘troubles’ over the status of Ulster be accorded an ‘imperative status’ and take centre stage (cf. Jenkins et al. 1986, Donnan and McFarlane 1997). Ireland, in short, warrants its own writing.

An Irish specificity is also seen reflected in its anthropology — the subject, until recently, of far more work than Britain (cf. Peace 1989). The first modernday anthropological studies of Ireland tended to be conducted by Americans . . .

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