A Society in Change


New Social and Economic Conditions


The differences we describe above were multiplied by the rapid changes of the 20th and 21st Centuries. The country which once pioneered the Industrial Revolution has largely lost its manufacturing base, with wide-scale implications for employment and unemployment. A wealthy society is currently confronting pressing issues of national indebtedness; whilst conditions of living have improved for many, the gap between rich and poor is still widening.


The Welfare State, that great social initiative of the post-WWII period, is now a complex site of struggles over the competing interests of the ‘public’ and ‘private’spheres. The monarchy maintains some of its centering symbolic power, but under much revised conditions.


Nationality and Internationality


The old Empire has disappeared, with Britain no longer the world-dominant centre. Former imperial connections took on new global meaning as citizens of the wider world migrated here to make up an increasingly multicultural society. Indeed, an early colony, America, has become powerful enough to dominate the imaginary of the contemporary UK. The historic European wars of the 20th Century have, thankfully, been eclipsed by a European Union of economic interests in which Britain sits both happily and yet uneasily.


Internally, the growth of nationalisms around the UK, and the concessions represented by political devolution, offer clear challenges to the unity of the kingdom. The growth of our cities, in turn, has transformed the landscapes of Britain, and its wider ecology. Overall, the technological revolution has brought Britain into a wider and more diverse set of global connections and also global dependencies. 


Identity and Citizenship


A form of ideological unity around notions of religion and the state has given way to on the one hand more complex varieties of faith affiliation and, on the other, to what some regard as a condition of ideological agnosticism and even anomie.  Personal identities have become to an extent more flexible, thanks to the increasing empowerment of women, and greater freedoms of sexual preference. The role of the family as a decisive social institution is under greater pressure.


The representational revolution, from photography to cinema to television and theInternet, has shown Britain more fully than ever - to itself, and to the world,
often in all its stereotypicality and sometimes in all its difference. A society which places such emphasis on – and gains such profit from - youth culture is now confronting, especially in the profoundly disturbing events of  summer 2011, the legacy of widespread social disaffection on the part of so many of its younger citizens.