The Relationship With The English Cultural Studies Essay

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My research project focuses on Welsh identity, particularly in the context of the cultural relationship between the Welsh and the English, taking into consideration examples of tensions and negative sentiments as well as tolerance and social inclusion. The Welsh language plays an important part in this analysis, especially with regards to cultural identity in terms of a social division between speakers and non-speakers of the language.

A lot has been written on the subject of Welsh identity and there is a very broad range of publications. Fiona Bowie's article Wales from within: Conflicting Interpretations of Welsh Identity has been a strong influence on this essay. It provides a "Through the Looking Glass" perspective on stereotypes of "Welshness", the Welsh language, local community spirit, the Welsh/English as "us/them", nationalism, identity, hostility, etc. I found it interesting that Fiona Bowie uses the term "Welshness" as a word to describe Welsh cultural identity in her book quite extensively.

Similarly, Living in Rural Wales by Noragh Jones has been an important source of information for my research, particularly as the book focuses on life in rural Ceredigion.

The Dragon Has Many Faces by Richard Michael Diedrich is a book about rural communities in Wales and the theoretical development of "anthropology at home" in Britain. Diedrich places an interesting emphasis on the cultural bias of the anthropologist in the study of rural communities, referring to urban English anthropologists as searching for alternatives to their own bureaucratic and alienating societies. In contrast, he depicts the native rural Welsh anthropologist as subject to a different type of idealization, being influenced by the dominant theme of the nationalist discourse. It is perhaps important to note that Diedrich wrote his book from his own culturally biased perspective of a German anthropologist.

When talking about the inhabitants of rural Wales, their sense of place and reasons for living here, the idea of community will always be mentioned. The concept is used to express strongly held beliefs about a way of living, a personal identity based on a sense of belonging to a particular place, and a set of shared values (Jones 1993: 13).

I recently had a conversation with a local lady who works in one of the shops in Lampeter. I asked her what she thought of the local community:

'I wouldn't say that there is just one community here. It's a lot of different groups, like in many towns these days. It would be really nice if everyone was great friends with everyone in the same town, but it's not like that anymore, maybe it used to be like that in the past, like fifty years ago, but it's natural for people to split off into their own little groups. A lot of older Welsh speakers stick together still, finding it quite difficult to accept English people as part of the same community. It's difficult for people like my parents, who grew up speaking Welsh at home and in school, and always identified with the language as well as the place, to relate to English people in the same way that they do with other Welsh speakers their age, having grown up together, sharing the same memories of the place, the changes it went through over the years. It's not quite the same for us, the younger generation. I was born here, but we were taught to speak English at school and it sort of feels like English is my first language because I use it so much more than I do Welsh these days, even though I speak Welsh fluently, especially with my parents and older people. Lampeter is quite different to other small towns in the area; the university makes it more international and more English. Some other places are more Welsh, you know...'

Community in rural Mid Wales operates as a social mechanism which binds individuals together, forming a context of social organisation and acting as a defence against pressures of external economic exploitation. The Welsh/English antagonism is most apparent and immediate on the community level, where Welsh people directly experience the impact of the English incomers. The fact that the concept of community is central to all variants of Welsh nationalist ideologies comes as no surprise (Diedrich 1993: 148-153).

Nationalism is a principle which states that the political and the national should correspond. The sentiment of nationalism can be aroused by the violation of the political principle, or the feeling of satisfaction due to its fulfilment. One particularly sensitive form of violation of the nationalist principle occurs when the rulers of the political unit belong to a nation other than that of the ruled, which is the case of Wales as part of the United Kingdom (Gellner 2006: 1-7).

Defining the community as an entity plays an essential part in social anthropology, being a prerequisite for functionalist analysis of culture as developed by Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown. The main objective of this analysis is to emphasise the functional interdependencies of people within a society and their contribution to the maintenance of the society as a whole.

Anthony Cohen, perhaps the most influential anthropologist in the modern study of communities, is mainly concerned with the problem of how local communities can maintain a sense of distinctiveness, particularly in times of threats to their structural boundaries by a powerful external force which tries to impose its structures upon them. The members of communities have developed a determined response to changes imposed from the outside because the community provides a space within which people can define their identities as individuals as well as members of a collective. When the community is threatened with destruction, people feel that an important part of their identity will also be destroyed.

"The ethnography of the locality is an account of how people experience and express their difference from others, and how their sense of difference becomes incorporated into and informs the nature of their social organisation and process." (Cohen 1982:2)

In recent years, the word 'community' has been taken over and used extensively by the government and public bodies, creating expressions such as 'community care', 'community service' and 'community school'. This interference from the government has only become necessary because the traditional organic communities are disappearing. A growing number of urban people began to realise their dream of escaping to the country, in retreat from unemployment and crime, and more importantly the failure of community, which led to a great influx of incomers into rural Wales. However, when tens of thousands of people move from urban areas into small villages in search of community, they are in danger of destroying the very thing they are looking for. It has become increasingly difficult for people to relate to each other when fewer people living in the same place are likely to share the same beliefs and values, or the same language (Jones 1993: 13).

I wanted to know what life in the local area is like for a family of English incomers and I found it very useful to get a chance to speak to a family with young children who were born in Lampeter and identify themselves as Welsh despite their parents English origin:

'This is the sort of place that you either love or hate. We were both students here and loved it, we just couldn't leave. We knew that it's not the sort of town where we were likely to get the sort of jobs that graduates would expect, so it was a bit of a struggle at first. We bought a house with quite a bit of land around it really cheap compared to the south of England, where we grew up. The house wasn't in great condition, so we practically had to rebuild it. My husband is pretty good at general building work and renovation, which was quite useful as he got work helping other people renovate old houses too. I did a bit of everything to make ends meet; I was giving piano lessons to some local school children for a while as well. We had a go at sheep farming for a while as well, which turned out to be more difficult than it seemed at first. We have a steady income from this small shop now, and we can manage for as long as the recession doesn't get any worse. We wouldn't want to go back to England and live in a city now, after being here for so long. It's a different kind of community and it wasn't easy to adapt at first, but the Welsh neighbours were always friendly, but we still felt like it was easier to talk to other English incomers like ourselves. It just felt like we had a lot more in common, so it was obviously easier. When the children went to school, they started learning Welsh, so I started to learn a bit myself as I wanted to be part of their experiences. I realised that there aren't actually that many people to use it with. There are so many English people around here that there is no actual need for me to speak Welsh. I think I understand how some of the local Welsh speakers must feel about hearing their language less and less. Quite a few of the pubs and shops are now run by English people who don't speak Welsh.

Most of us came to live here because we appreciate a small community with beautiful countryside stretching in every direction. This is where we chose to live and bring up our children, so we feel like it is our community just as much as it is everyone else's. The kids were born here and they both say they are Welsh, not English. It's almost as if they feel like it's their duty to defend their Welsh identity and they both speak Welsh fluently now.'

Learning and speaking Welsh can never be a politically neutral act. Welsh speakers often associate learning Welsh with support for nationalist causes, or perhaps even extremist groups (Bowie 1993: 169). For the almost 80% percent of the population of Wales for whom Welsh is a foreign language, any definition of Welsh identity which prioritises the Welsh language may pose a potential threat to their own sense of identity. The question of the extent to which the Welsh language can be taken as the prime determining factor of Welsh identity reveals deep and unresolved social divisions (Bowie 1993: 169).

According to the Welsh Language Board's 2004 survey, 21% of the population of Wales speak the Welsh language. (2004 Welsh Language Use Survey: The report on-line. Accessed 18/05/2010). The proportion of Welsh was falling steadily during the first half of the 20th century, which led to the founding of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, also known as the Welsh Language Society. Their campaigns have been successful in making the Welsh language more visible in public services, and the creation of bilingual road signs.

Some people have complained about the tactics employed by the Welsh Language Society, as they have been high-impact and media-conscious, and perhaps considered to be too aggressive by many conservative Welsh speakers of the older generation. Many English incomers feel uneasy when their attention is forced upon a language which they may find impenetrable and intimidating (Jones 1993: 134).

The Welsh Language Society had warned in the 60's that failure to assimilate incomers to the local language and culture would inevitably lead to a steady Anglicisation of local communities, but the Welsh did not see the necessity for English people to speak Welsh, and they continue to be reluctant for various reasons to help incomers learn the language. It seems that the local people are not emotionally ready to share their language with strangers, or perhaps it can be attributed to a shyness of people in rural communities, which does not make it easy to talk in any language when strangers are present and their potential responses and reactions are unpredictable (Jones 1993: 135).

Social groups in a structurally weak position are forced by their circumstances to make a careful study of their more dominant neighbours, while at the same time protecting themselves from the gaze of the outsiders. The possession of a distinctive ancient language has been a two-way mirror through which the Welsh have been able to view the English for centuries, while the English see only what the Welsh allow them to see. Everyday interactions in most Mid Wales rural communities can easily polarise along Welsh/English lines, as English incomers and native Welsh tend to lead fairly separate lives (Bowie 1993: 172).

Various studies of Welsh identity have indicated that Welsh speakers respond more positively and promptly to requests for help if they are made in Welsh rather than in English, an attitude which is not entirely confined to people who speak Welsh as their first language. Welsh learners, both English and Welsh, confirmed that at their places of work they tend to deal more quickly with members of the public who address them in Welsh. It is almost as if being able to speak Welsh identifies people as members of an elite group with a certain sense of solidarity towards each other.

I had a chat with an elderly lady who has been living in a small village near Lampeter all her life. She was more than happy to give me her opinion on her local community, welsh identity, and language:

'For me, being Welsh is such a big part of my identity. We always speak Welsh here at home, and always have done. My children speak Welsh at home with their children, my grandchildren, but they go to the village school and many English children go there as well, and the English language dominates. It's very hard for the Welsh children to learn to speak Welsh properly nowadays. Sometimes I feel like we might as well be living in England, but I don't think that keeping the incomers out would be an answer in the long run. It's good to see that some of the newcomers are willing to help us keep what is valuable of our old traditions, our history, culture and identity. You can't just be a part of a community by coming here and wondering why the locals aren't more friendly. You can't be a part of it if you don't make an effort to get involved and understand the community and the culture. I guess sometimes the problem is that Welsh people won't speak out about our language and culture when there are outsiders present.

It's about understanding each other, and being proud to show our culture to incomers. I know that a lot of them are looking for something different, a small place in the country, with a nice and friendly community, a good place to bring up your children, and that is why they come here. I think it's our duty to explain our culture and our communities to incomers and getting them to want to be a part of our culture. '

The difficulty of bridging the gap between Welsh and non-Welsh speakers, between natives and incomers, has been the greatest problem facing any organisation attempting to promote a national Welsh identity. This issue has particularly preoccupied Plaid Cymru in their attempts to define Welsh national identity in a way which would support separate nation status. The English are an essential part of Welsh identity, perhaps not in defining what Welsh people are, but in providing a symbol of what they are not (Bowie 1993: 191).

Collective identities have to struggle against their own contradictions, which lie in the fact that social groups are composed of self conscious individuals whose differences have to be reconciled to a degree which allows the group to cohere. As a collective entity, a cultural group has to suffer and reconcile the contrasting and competing claims made on it by its collective members. If there is anything that unifies the people of Wales, despite their diversity, it is their preoccupation with locality and community.