Englishness and National Culture

Englishness and National Culture

Englishness and National Culture

Englishness and National Culture


In this highly engaging book, Antony Easthope examines 'Englishness' as a form and a series of shared discourses. Discussing the subject of 'nation' - a growing area in literary and cultural studies - Easthope offers polemical arguments written in a lively and accessible style. Englishness and National Culture asserts a profound and unacknowledged continuity between the seventeenth century and today. It argues that contemporary journalists, historians, novelists, poets and comedians continue to speak through the voice of a long-standing empiricist tradition.


Culture and Society by Raymond Williams was published in 1958. Since then, analysis which began by thinking about social groups in terms of class developed to consider gender and ethnicity (among others); it now needs to be directed at the most powerful collective identity to emerge with modernity: nation.

My argument begins by justifying an understanding of nation in terms of collective identification; in conclusion I return to some of the unwelcome but ineluctable implications of recognising that human groups are organised on a basis which is unconscious as well as conscious.

National collectivities identify with the overt symbols of nationhood (flags, presidents) but my proposal is that a much deeper effect is achieved through identification with a discursive formation specific to a particular nation. If two strangers from the same nation meet and talk casually for half an hour, there would be a number of ways to analyse their exchange. I shall address the level at which the conversation would enact national identity, not just in what was said but in how it was said (typical tropes, shifts of tone, jokes employed, the conception of truth appealed to). To support this I shall take Englishness as my example.

From the New Left of the 1960s I have retrieved the proposal that the English tradition is essentially empiricist. It would have been possible to justify that argument by tracing a history of empiricism in English writing from 1600: my approach has been to establish a sense of the empiricist tradition from the seventeenth century and then look in detail at four examples of contemporary discursive forms.

Englishness and National Culture aims to demonstrate a profound and hardly acknowledged continuity between the seventeenth century and today. This means that often when English people (journalists, historians, novelists, poets, comic writers and others) think they are speaking in their own voices, in fact the discourse of an empiricist tradition is speaking for them.

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