8 October 2009

Anthropologies of the English Tory Boy...

Traumatically busy here at the moment, entangled in the first flush of recognition and innumerable painfully introductive conversations. Tragically, I haven’t met too many of the noxious Tory Boy types, though the town is replete with several souls pantalooning along like berks in the designated uniform. Indeed, what I’ve found profoundly striking here in the middle-class south is how confidently and without qualm that section of the English population identifies itself with Englishness itself. Very English, folk glance about themselves at the Oxfordshire atmosphere and nod conspiratorially. I’ve been seeking out (unsuccessfully) people from the North of England to see how the experience – and that claim to representative authority – sits with their conceptions of English authenticity. Similarly, I’ve met some wondrously brisk young women who argue that there are a series of linguistic and symbolic practices about the place which serve to marginalise women and exclude participation as full members of the community. Interesting stuff. Perhaps I’ll be able to churn out a sneaky anthropology of the English on the sly.

All of this is quite in contrast to the Scottish phenomenon (which is not without its contestations) that an “Anglicised” Scots middle class can feel denationalised and invested with less national capital than their working class fellow citizens. Although it’s a complex series of relations – which I’m skimming over here unjustly quickly – I think it is fair to say that few would make the equivalent claim for Edinburgh. We are not without resources to see Edinburgh as very Scottish. Various wonderful, brightly intelligent, bourgeois figures can furnish us with alternative stories about Scottishness which encompasses an idea of Scots middle class authenticity – but these have to be worked out, grounded more thoroughly. While identity politics at this level may seem to some of you abstruse - I'd only note this. Social power continues to be wielded by adamantly middle-class characters in Scotland. Yet, in the representational stakes, the Scots bourgeois is a challenging and unfamiliar character. What voice might he or she speak in? What has she to say? Sit in any theatre. Risk a crick in your neck and glance backwards. Its just another dramatisation of a point made by the scholar of Scottish literature, Christopher White. Discussing the phenomenon of the "hard man" in Scots novels, he argues that much of the curiosity of the genre is that the consumers of texts about this gruff customer are unlikely to be hard men themselves. Although impressionistic as an indictment, I'd say we can see similar things afoot, stalking the boards of the Scottish stage.

Whyte styles this the "textual invisibility" of the Scottish middle class. If you find the idea plausible - whether in whole or part - then it is crucial to return to the more important questions of social power. Unknown quantities are the enemy of representative democracy. Just as we would be suspicious of a figure who wraps up his head in a balaclava, socially empowered Scotland hiding its cranium and the mischiefs that churn there ought to prompt curiosity. And insofar as the climate will permit, disinfectant sunlight.

Just a few, idly sprouting little thoughts. Will return to political blogging in earnest soonish, I hope.


  1. "Just a few,idly sprouting little thoughts."

    Indeed, but well worth a more fullsome exegesis.

    Does Scotland actually have a culturally indigenous bourgeois?

    I have often wondered how a Scottish drama, set in an unmistakeably upwardly mobile environment, but with all the main characters speaking in dialect, would be received.
    It might be levelled, correctly, that it was simply unrealistic. But it would be interesting to see how the aspiring classes would react to seeing the more successful, sophisticated, better -looking characters portrayed in this way.

    If I may take another hallucinogenic segue, I'd love to set up a very exclusive 'haute couture' fashion boutique (with commensurately outlandish prices) and staff it with very bright working class youngsters who, whilst speaking in their everyday idiom, adopt a very superior air.
    The signage, prices etc would, naturally, be in local dialect.
    I don't whether it'd sell much, but I can imagine a few of the customers who frequent such places ringing up 'no sale'.

  2. A complex point - one which I suspect would hinge on your definition of "culturally indigenous" - and too overgrown to draw life from the wee asides planted here.

    I'm interested in what those forms of theatre might look like - there was a programme on BBC4, recently repeated on BBC iplayer, called New Town, set in a quirky, slightly surreal but distinctly middle class version of Edinburgh's best-heeled end of town. While some (I've got Irvine Welsh in mind here) might object to the way in which it reinforced traditional narratives and representations of Edinburgh which marginalise the working class - it was an interesting object lesson in some of the themes I mentioned here. Unfortunately, it was scrubbed from the site before I could cross-reference, so it went unreported here.

    Hopefully I'll be able to return to the theme when I have more time. That, and visit your charming range of boutiques and plays!

  3. Culturally indigenous bourgeois. Hmmm. Really what I was trying to get at was; do we have an aspiring class in Scotland who aspire to distinct (from middle class England)social/ cultural 'gold standards'? Dialect / accent being particularly indicative?

    Oh, I was particularly taken with 'New Town'.
    Interesting to speculate on why (other than high status jobs and commensurate wealth) we view the characters as 'distinctly' middle class. Are they middle class in any way which is distinct from southern English middle class?