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Debatable Land: National and Local Identity in a Border Town

Richard Kiely, David McCrone, Frank Bechhofer and Robert Paul Stewart
Sociological Research Online 5 (2) kiely

Abstract: Through a systematic programme of research into national identity we have developed a sound understanding of the processes of identity claim, attribution and receipt. Central to these processes are identity markers and rules. We have always sought contexts where national identity is either salient or problematic as identity construction then becomes most clearly apparent. Berwick-upon-Tweed, a town in England but located close to the Scottish border, provides such a context.One would expect people from Berwick-upon-Tweed ('Berwickers') to claim an English national identity. They live in a town jurisdictionally in England and in the county of Northumberland. Moreover, one might think that, living only 3 miles south of the Scottish border, they would feel a heightened sense of their English national identity. However, our research shows that national identity in Berwick-upon- Tweed is complex and problematic. This is not simply due to close proximity to the border but a combination of unique forces - historical, cultural and demographic - that has led some Berwickers to avoid explicitly articulating a definitive nationality. Instead, they mobilise a specific identity strategy of localism. Context dramatically affects the willingness to claim a national identity.Key findings are presented from 70 household interviews conducted in Berwick-upon-Tweed and 48 divided evenly across Eyemouth, a nearby town in Scotland, and Alnwick, a town slightly further south in England. These data allowed us also to explore how Berwickers' identity claims are received, how national identity is attributed to them by others and how these attributions are in turn received. Two of the aims of our work are to demonstrate the fluid nature of national identity processes and the crucial importance of context to these. Our work in Berwick-Upon-Tweed has done much to meet and further these aims.

Confidence Amid Uncertainty: Ambitions and Plans in a Sample of Young Adults

Michael Anderson, Frank Bechhofer, Lynn Jamieson, David McCrone, Yaojun Li and Robert Paul Stewart
Sociological Research Online 6 (4) anderson

Abstract: The limited and sometimes contradictory published literature, mostly relating to younger age groups and non-British societies, suggests that planning and a longer time perspective are inhibited by economic insecurity, by tight structuring of the life course, and a track record of failing to achieve ambitions. This paper uses survey data, backed by qualitative interviews, to investigate planning and forethought in a sample of young adults in the Scottish town of Kirkcaldy in the late 1990s. Responses are compared with those of older age groups and of people of the same age twelve years earlier. Economic insecurity and failure to achieve ambitions had been seen by our older respondents as particularly characteristic of the lives of young adults. However, in spite of considerable sense of insecurity, the young adults we studied do in general feel in control of their lives, and do have well articulated ambitions and plans to achieve them with respect especially to work and housing. Indeed, conditions of modern life almost force many to seek to plan to some degree in these areas. Forethought and an element of planning, albeit often quite provisional in its nature, seems actually to provide some sense of security in an uncertain world. Respondents also show considerable commitment to future childbearing and partnership, though past experience of entry to both has often been fairly haphazard and there is evidence of cultural resistance to overly rational planning in such areas. Failing to achieve ambitions in the past does not affect ambitions but does limit willingness to plan for the future, especially for the long-run. Poverty and job insecurity, and also the presence of children, inhibit planning, in some cases to extreme degrees.