These Englands: A Conversation on National Identity by Arthur Aughey and Christine Berberich (eds). Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011. 318pp., £16.99, ISBN 978 0 7190 7961 0
Article first published online: 8 JAN 2014
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies Review © 2014 Political Studies Association
Political Studies Review
Volume 12, Issue 1, pages 139–140, January 2014
How to Cite
Munce, P. (2014), These Englands: A Conversation on National Identity by Arthur Aughey and Christine Berberich (eds). Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011. 318pp., £16.99, ISBN 978 0 7190 7961 0 . Political Studies Review, 12: 139–140. doi: 10.1111/1478-9302.12041_82
- Issue published online: 8 JAN 2014
- Article first published online: 8 JAN 2014
This collection of essays edited by Arthur Aughey and Christine Berberich makes a highly valuable and scholarly contribution to a growing body of literature on the question of Englishness and English national identity. In a reflection of the increasing diversity and distinctiveness of the debate the editors have assembled a diverse and broad range of contributions that examine the ‘conversation’ on Englishness from the perspective of political science, history, sociology and literature. The book's introductory and concluding chapters set out, convincingly, what the editors were trying to achieve through this work, which was to ‘show how England … is full of many tales and that to write or speak of the “identity” of England at any one time is to write or speak of the conversation implied in those tales’ (p. 274).
The editors rely on two key ideas from the work of the English philosopher Michael Oakeshott as the analytical lens through which the book is framed: first, the Oakeshottian description of historical change, using the metaphor of the ‘dry stone wall’ ‘to conjure up how historical events are related to each other’ (p. 11). This is used by the editors to show how the ‘varieties of Englishness stand in relation to one another and to the whole’ (p. 2). Second, they adapt Oakeshott's idea of politics as a conversation to show how understanding Englishness in these terms is ‘an imaginative rather than a purely functional engagement … where what is conversed about, explicitly, or implicitly, is the meaning of England itself’ (p. 2).
In addition to the editors' introduction and conclusion, other chapters worth mentioning, because of their distinctiveness and scholarly contribution, are a chapter by Durham's Julia Stapleton, an expert in British intellectual history, exploring the writings of Arthur Mee and G. K. Chesterton and the connection in their writings between a common religious inheritance and the English union; and a chapter by Patrick Parrinder exploring perspectives on Englishness in the work of Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin. Furthermore, the chapters by the trio of academics from the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Hull exploring the left and Englishness (Beech), Gordon Brown and the negation of England (Lee) and the Englishness of Westminster (Norton) ensure that this collection of essays will be of interest to academics with a particular interest in British politics. Each chapter is well researched, lucidly argued and, overall, this edited collection of essays has the potential to be an essential reference point in the ongoing conversation about Englishness in the twenty-first century.