chapter  5
14 Pages

This is our island: multiple class heritage or ethnic solidarities?: Richard Courtney


This chapter argues that the sociological importance of heritage is not to interpret the past, but to understand the way the past is used as a means to appropriate the present in order to call for social change and the implications of this practice on issues of multiplicity. The chapter will outline the sociological meaningfulness of heritage to the future of English Identity and separates this analysis from the conventional use of heritage as an object of historical study. The research in the borough of Thurrock, Essex, during the summer of 2006 was a community study that looked at the migration of Black British people from London, and the responses of the local majority white community. Thurrock was a traditionally ‘white’ urban area with a history in light manufacturing, quarrying and logistics. The borough had 19 wards at the time of study, and this chapter uses research data from two of the most socially and economically deprived wards, Ockendon and Tilbury. The research reveals the way in which social class, as a category of economic existence, was used as a cultural resource for respondents to legitimise their social memory. The legitimation that respondents desired was a strategy to attain heritage status in order to compete with claims for inclusion within the discourses of land and people made by newcomers to the locality. The chapter shows that heritage is central to an understanding of multiculturalism, as it signals a domain of conflict over community and identity central to the definition of the nation-state. The research highlights that heritage is an aspiration for status by competing social and cultural groups; as such there is a conceptual separation of heritage from social memory. This highlights the processes of ethnic identification emergent amongst disenfranchised white working class groups and the political and sociological difficulties involved with reconciling this voice with wider political values of multi-culturalism.