Anthropology of Britain


Anthropology of Britain

For those who have carried out ethnographic fieldwork in the UK, or are interested in the anthropological study of Britain

Location: an island
Members: 63
Latest Activity: Jun 15, 2015

This little world

Imagine yourself suddenly set down surrounded by all your gear, alone in a car park close to a former industrial town while the bus which has brought you rolls down the road out of sight. (with apologies to Malinowski)

For those interested, the image for the group is a space invader, one of many that appeared on the streets of London (and elsewhere) through the efforts of the self-styled "invader"; see his website at for more details.

Discussion Forum

Bibliography for the anthropology of contemporary Britain 3 Replies

Started by Richard Irvine. Last reply by Richard Irvine Nov 13, 2009.

FiLo - The Fieldwork in London Network

Started by Richard Irvine Oct 21, 2009.

Comment Wall


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Comment by Bob Williams on March 28, 2014 at 12:47am

I'm not sure where this specialist group is headed, but here I am. I conducted an ethnography of the privatisation of prison education in England during the late 1990s.  Currrent ethnographies incude inter-generational change of an Indo-Pakistani immigrant community in the Black Country as well as a visual ethnography of Olympic wrestling in the UK.

Comment by Keith Hart on October 6, 2009 at 5:52pm
I agree, Simone. I hate nationalism in all its guises, especially English. After all, I'm not English, I'm from Manchester (like you). I just felt that she had an argument, even if you disagreed with it (like the American war-time studies of national character that are more prestigious), that was often neglected by critics, as if she didn't have one.

I recently attended a fabulous exhibition in Paris by the photographer and collector. Martin Parr. In a way he is doing something similar, but his method allows you to see all the variety and ask 'Could all these share something English?' Rather like George Orwell, dodgy but appealing. He has a documentary film, 54 minutes long, called Think of England (cousin of a book of the same name) that I found so riveting I wanted to come back and see it again. I was intrigued by the idea, even though I hate and reject it. He interviews a Jamaican woman doing her Saturday shopping in South London and asks her if she thinks she is English. She smiles warmly, "More English than you, dear!". And the scenes in Blackpool during a gale are stunning. One old sod like my Dad says English means getting rid of the immigrants, while a nice lady from the Peak District says it means accepting everyone from wherever they come. And somehow you buy into the premise that the dialectic itself may be English.

But of course I don't believe it.
Comment by Simone Abram on October 6, 2009 at 5:24pm
I think it very cleverly plays into a kind of self-deprecating search for an appealing English nationalism. It's a kind of middle-class version of the George Cross flags that appear in the world cup. It is fabulously written, witty and amusing, easy to follow and plays to a general curiosity about who The English are which is perennially popular (especially in the press). I admire it tremendously, but at the same time I was bored stiff and abandoned it half way through - which is extremely rare for me. Because for many readers it is comforting and appealing to have a simple answer to the question 'who are we?' it is instantly appealing. But for me, the answers are threatening, they coalesce a multicultural society into a unified nation. What she describes is the kind of Englishness that I am very familiar with people asserting and performing from my fieldwork in Buckinghamshire, but even there/then it was a minority affair.
So my problem with the book was not any kind of academic snobbery, but more a nagging discomfort with the creation of a nationalist stereotype that I couldn't relate to. In one way you could say that she outlines a portrait of English people that doesn't include me. Maybe that's my problem. But it doesn't include many of my friends either, and seems very out of date and southern, so then it becomes a problem for her argument. While we are being seduced by her engaging writing and keen observation, she is slipping a kind of pernicious nationalism past us. ick. (that's my most scholarly response)
Comment by Keith Hart on October 6, 2009 at 5:08pm
I once wrote a letter to Anthropology Today about Kate Fox's book. My line was that she deserved more respect than she usually gets from academic anthropologists. But her ability to connect with the general public is what impressed me most. After I put the piece up on my website, it has consistently been in the top three for hits. Why would that be so? Is it her style or the topic?
Comment by Simone Abram on October 6, 2009 at 9:43am
hello all.
Thank you for setting this group up!
I have done fieldwork in England, north and south, and Kate Fox's observations seem very partial to me... so the generalisation to English is a problem. It's a fun book, though, great for students, and teaching observation (must get it on the reading list...).
Looking forward to useful discussions.
Comment by Eliza Jane Darling on June 8, 2009 at 9:42am
Two now - Nick Griffin is in as well.
Comment by Eliza Jane Darling on June 8, 2009 at 2:04am
Wow. Yorkshire just sent a former National Front leader to the European parliament. On the 65th anniversary of D-Day, no less (well, not quite to the day, but close). This place is in deep shit. Or shite, as it were.
Comment by John Postill on June 6, 2009 at 10:52am
Those are intriguing leads to follow up, thanks Richard. Yes, the shoving and the queueing have always caught my eye as a repatriated half-Brit (born in England, raised in Spain, now living in England), not to mention the binge drinking and day-after apologies for having done embarrassing things under the influence. What's your theory about binge drinking? How has it changed historically?
Comment by Richard Irvine on June 6, 2009 at 12:53am
I think Kate Fox is really perceptive. It's good to focus on the little rituals of small talk, queueing and so on, and I think she does this well. Yes, there are lots of rules to decode, although perhaps to understand any society it's also necessary to understand the reversal of the rules; to understand England we need to understand the binge as well as the moderation, the shoving as well as the queue. Also, my main feeling is that perhaps we need more of a clue as to the historical origins of some of these behaviours... She describes one way in which England might be seen, but I would like to know more about what has made it that way.

I would say that the pub in particular is an excellent vantage point from which to understand what goes on in England; she has written a guide to this crucial institution for the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, which is well worth reading:

Incidentally, I think the best book on England and Englishness for a popular audience is _Those Feet_ by David Winner. It is about football, so maybe not to everybody's tastes. But in trying to account for why English football is played in a particular style, and why a particular set of values infuses the English game, he explores many of the recesses of the "national character", if such a thing exists.
Comment by John Postill on June 5, 2009 at 10:26am
Hi, I've never studied Britain anthropologically, only informally, but may do so in the future, you never know. Richard, what did you make of Fox's "Studying the English?"

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