Diversity in the post-war United Kingdom
‘What have been the main forms of diversity to emerge in the post-war United Kingdom, and to what extent have they been sources of uncertainty?
There have been many forms of diversity to emerge in the UK in the post war period. It is subjective which of these can be considered the main forms. Personal circumstances may colour somebodys view of which forms of diversity are the most noticeable, have had the most profound effect or caused the most uncertainty. For example a person living in a community with a higher than average Asian population may cite Britains more multicultural society as being the biggest change in post-war Britain compared to somebody from the South West for example where the number of people belonging to ethnic minorities is relatively low. Many changes have taken place in Britain since the end of WWII and there is no objective answer as to whether any of the changes are to the detriment of society as a whole.
Political ideology can often determine what changes are seen in a positive light e.g. the more opportunities open to single parents to return to work while bringing up young children may be seen as a positive form of diversity, particularly if you are a working parent but to read a conservative-leaning newspaper such as The Daily Mail or The Daily Telegraph one might consider this change is not a favourable one. I will therefore discuss the changes which I consider to be the most considerable and the how these can be viewed in terms of uncertainty.
Diversity does not automatically lead to uncertainty, in some instances it could be argued that more choice of categorization can help people make a firm commitment to one group, lifestyle etc… Rather than having to choose the category that is simply the least different or most similar from a limited set of criteria e.g. I have a penis so I am male, there are now more detailed, complex categories providing a more highly specific answer to questions of a persons gender e.g. a person with a penis could now consider themselves Transgendered. So, in some cases through an increased diversity of choices a person can achieve more certainty about who they are.
Turner et al discussed the question of gender categorisation in 1987 in his Self-categorization Theory. He believes identity is shaped by self-categorization, that people review the social categories on offer to them, decide to which one they belong (by comparing to which category they had the most similarities and least differences) and that they then began to take on identities appropriate to that social category e.g. recognising that you are male leads you to believe that shaving your legs is not a typical activity for your gender group. It could be argued that with lots of categories and freedom to choose there is now no clear path to follow, which may lead to uncertainty as to who one is supposed to be.
Another major and visible new form of diversity in UK in the post war period is Ethnic and Cultural diversity. Many factors have altered the ethnic make-up of Britain for example Immigration and Asylum Seekers from war torn countries such as Albania. Black people from British colonies were encouraged to come to Britain in the 1950s to cover a labour shortage left by WWII, several generations have now been born from these original immigrants who are British with full British citizenship but with recent family history, roots, elsewhere in different countries with different cultures. This may cause uncertainty in terms of self-categorization, does saying one is British really incorporate all of a persons cultural history, and confusion for people outside this group especially an older generation of British Whites to whom Black people were a rare and exotic people who were foreign to them when they were children. The British as a whole have to redefine themselves.
Although historically many people from various areas have come to settle in Britain through migration or, several centuries ago, through invasion, since WWII the numbers have increased and, perhaps, with our advanced communications network (regular, round the clock national news, televised House of Commons debates, regional media which can be accessed from anywhere via the Internet) we, as a society, are more conscious of the situation. The media, particularly the right wing, reactionary press, often highlights the negative issues surrounding such immigrations. Uncertainties such as increased competition for limited jobs, welfare budgets and social housing are pushed to the forefront of the public consciousness although it may be argued that such media are not balancing the negative by giving focus to the more positive effects of a more diverse ethnic population e.g. wider variety of cultures and through such close experience of different cultures the possibilities to stop demonising and fearing different cultures and cultural practises for example Notting Hill Carnival, or the presence of a wider choice of places of worship (although to strict Christians or white racists and fascist fractions this would be seen as a negative, de-stabilizing the Britain that they seek to restore therefore causing uncertainty to the future of Britain).
It seems the UK is still in a fluid state with regards to multiculturalism, the journey from a white, mainly Christian nation to a pluralist, culturally diverse country with a diverse national identity is still underway and therefore exactly what is ahead is uncertain. Racism and misunderstanding of other cultures are clearly the main problems associated with a culturally diverse Britain. Friction between citizens of white origin (in particular extremist fractions such as the BNP and National Front) and citizens of, for example, Asian origin (in particular Muslim extremists) was bought to the publics attention over the summer 2001 in both Oldham and Bradford, while only a few months ago violent clashes between Glaswegians and European asylum seekers on Glasgow housing estates were headline news.
There are many positive outcomes from the increased ethnic diversity in UK in recent years e.g. increased call for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, which has been answered with several such laws particularly in the fields of employment and education selection processes. However, there are still clear differences in the financial success and the opportunities available to different groups and on a day to day basis this brings uncertainty to members of those groups who experience less opportunities and financial securities as others within the community. Modood et al (1997) found that although some minority groups e.g. Jews and Indians, appear more successful than the white, Christian majority group, generally minority groups experience less success.
The period immediately following the Second World War is often referred to as a Golden Age. It is interesting to compare family forms in this period to the diversity of family organisations now available to understand further whether the increasing diversity of family forms has led to increased uncertainty and whether the nuclear family offered certainty in the first place. The decline of the traditional family is often cited as a cause of societys ills e.g. the increase of youth crime, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse. There is no absolute definition of the Traditional Family but the majority family form of the Golden Age is known as a nuclear family a social unit consisting of wife (normally full time homemaker), husband (normally full time breadwinner) and dependant children. This form of family was considered to be a good way of establishing security and stability in what followed a time of chaos, and what was a time of economic instability, rationing and uncertainty about what the future held for the UK or the World. The British Government actively promoted this notion of stability.
Although the nuclear family form of the 1950s set down clear boundaries for each family member e.g. the role of wife as homemaker and husband as breadwinner and therefore a degree of certainty, if a grim and limited future. There was certainty but was this a positive and helpful certainty? For those who wished to break the mould, for wives who suffered domestic violence for example, the certainty of ones role may have felt like a prison sentence and therefore certainty is not always a good experience. When new legislation which made divorce easier was introduced in the 1970s the numbers of couples choosing to divorce increased dramatically. It could be argued that if the stability of the post-war family was a real stability and not one forced by circumstance or social expectation then the divorce rates should have stayed the same, if these nuclear families really were stable then why would they choose to dissolve the key relationship within them. Therefore for the many families affected by divorce, the uncertainty caused by the divorce, e.g. the difficulties experienced by children caught between two separated parents, was simply replacing a false certainty that had been kept in place by social pressure and practicalities.
Since the Second World War there has been an accelerated increase of the extent and intensity of stretched social relations through an intensification of the flows and networks of interaction and interconnectedness that are not bound by nation states. This has led to increased interpenetration of economic and social practices that has bought previously distant cultures and experiences together on a local level. Examples of this process (arguably referred to as Globalization) can be seen in the diversity of fast food available in an average town in UK. Chinese Takeaways, Kebab Houses, Indian Takeaways, McDonalds, Pizzerias and Burger King are found besides traditionally British Fish and Chip shops.
Local economics are now intrinsically interdependent on global economics. There are now many more outside factors affecting the stability of UKs economy. A recent example of this is in the attack on the World Trade Centre, Manhattan on September 11th 2001. Economic reverberations were felt throughout the Western World. Fears of global recession (and possible war) were met by a lowering of interest rates both in USA and UK with the Central European Bank likely to follow suit. Because of the high volume of trading links between UK and USA, what happens in USA (and other financial centres around the western world) can drastically affect the lives of mortgage holders, owners of shares and savings and consumers in UK and therefore increased global links have led to an increase in uncertainty.
In conclusion it appears that the levels of uncertainty experienced in this post war period in UK really depends on who you are, which social strata you belong to, which gender you are and which ethnic group. We can see that increased ethnic diversity has had many effects on the British consciousness and has bought with it both turmoil and increased opportunity and understanding. While multiracial marriages are no longer a taboo and we can see examples of multiracial relationships at schools, in families and in the work place there are also riots, so called no go areas for different groups e.g. in Oldham and beatings. Increased diversity has bought with it increased choices of lifestyle and categorization for some and increased tension for others and it seems Britain is still experiencing a transitionary stage while it adjusts to its new ethnic make-up and struggles to find a way to redefine itself while pleasing every social group.