A seminar by Dr Mary Healy (University of Roehampton)
Questions of belonging, and the resulting priority of attachments, have come to frame numerous discussions in contemporary political and philosophical theory. Creating and securing the forms of solidarity needed for social cohesion and stability is a recurring quandary for politicians of all political persuasions. Unsurprisingly, governmental policy agendas in the UK, and similarly across Europe, have struggled to define what it is to ‘belong together’ in a constantly changing landscape, plagued by the modern malaises of social disorder, alienation, fragmentation of belonging and conflict.
Nevertheless, the creation of a group identity that all can share in is still seen as a central goal of the modern state. The state often focuses on citizenship education as a means of ensuring this ‘belonging’ amongst ‘future citizens’. Recent constructions of belonging in the UK are voiced in terms of shared ‘British values’, the ‘active promotion’ of which are now a requirement in schools and subject to Ofsted reporting.
I argue that the idea of ‘actively promoting British values’ in schools has not been sufficiently conceptually unpacked and ultimately rests on two concepts - belonging and loyalty. I argue that current conceptualisations of belonging all too frequently fail to consider perspectives other than ‘membership belonging’ and ‘a sense of belonging’. I tentatively suggest that how others see us as belonging plays a critical role in achieving the desired social solidarity, and thus add ‘perceived belonging’ to the mix. This broadens the possible ways of thinking about citizenship belonging and, specifically, group loyalties in potentially useful ways.
Using this analysis, I clarify the change in policy from respecting to actively promoting British values by distinguishing between a minimal and maximal level of ‘promotion’. Next, I identify four distinct ways in which ‘actively promoting British values’ might be understood, each with very different implications for practice. I then show how these concepts of belonging underpin attempts to ‘actively promote British values’, and indicate where lack of theoretical engagement may serve to undermine the desired aims of the policy.
Part of the PESGB Seminar series 2016/17