But how does the notion of a national collection representing Britain – perhaps even a discourse of 'Britishness' – fit with a 21st-century idea of identity? Post-Empire migration, the European project, globalisation and the rise of digital media have all challenged the nation-state as the default system of belonging.
It's change like this that social scientists at London South Bank University's School of Law and Social Sciences thrive on. Seeking to pursue questions of audience and cultural identity, Tate Britain partnered with LSBU and the University of the Arts, London, in 2007 for an extended research project into the ways in which the Tate understands its audiences and the challenges of contemporary cultural diversity.
Applied research and interdisciplinary collaboration
"At its most simplistic, Tate Encounters sought to address why - despite a significant increase in museum attendance (supported by free access) and targeted education programmes – visits by minority audiences remained low," explains Andrew Dewdney, professor of media education at LSBU and principal investigator of Tate Encounters.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the embedded project sought to provide an in-depth account and analysis of a sustained encounter between those of a migrant family background and Tate Britain as a national cultural site. From 2007 to 2009, fieldwork generated a body of material from which the research team could analyse the ways in which the Tate understood and related to its audiences.
'Real world' research opportunities for LSBU students
During the fieldwork period the project enlisted the participation of more than 600 first-year LSBU undergraduates - drawn from largely migrational and non-traditional educational backgrounds who visited Tate Britain and responded to their encounter through questionnaires and essays. A group of 12 students subsequently took part in an in-depth, two-year study working with a visual anthropologist and were constituted by the project as 'co-researchers'.
"Undergraduate students are not normally thought of as being in a position to undertake original research," says Professor Dewdney. "So this was a unique opportunity for them. Participants were invited, after a three-month pilot, to become 'co-researchers' through the submission of a proposal which was discussed and signed-off with the research team."
The co-researchers used digital media to document their work and final productions were screened as part of 'Research in Process', a month-long programme at the Tate. Bringing together 72 contributors including artists, curators, educators and policy-makers, the LSBU students gained invaluable experience in undertaking research fieldwork - enhancing their employability and prospects of postgraduate study.
Real world impact on cultural policy and ideas of access
In tracing their encounter with Tate Britain, and following their own accounts of what Tate Britain meant in their daily lives outside of the museum environment, a complex account emerges of how intertwined the issues of identity and nationalism are with new forms of migration and globalisation.
"Multiculturalism, as politically received and as policy, has reproduced a mythologised view of a British majority," says Professor Dewdney. "Which under any sustained scrutiny dissolves into a multitude of other groupings based upon historical circumstances, region, locale and socio-economic positions."
Professor Dewdney argues instead of thinking about cultural diversity in Britain in terms of a 'multicultural' society, the research points to a new direction of thinking about British culture as 'transcultural'.
"Transculturality understands cultural value as being constantly in flux as people move across boundaries and borders of all kinds. To think of British culture as transcultural provides a starting point for new narratives of British cultural history and memory, which make more sense of the mobile conditions of the present.
"The final Tate Encounters report is of direct use to policy makers, opinion formers and stakeholders in the sector when considering future cultural diversity policy and funding initiatives."
To find out more about this work, contact Andrew Dewdney or search our People Finder for academics researching in this area.
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The challenges of multicultural societies
• Ethnic Segregation: Clustering together of people with similar ethnic or cultural characteristics into separate urban residential areas.
Asylum Seeker: Someone who has fled from his or her country to find a safe place elsewhere. Under the 1951 Convention of Refugees, an asylum applicant must be able to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in his or her country of origin for reasons of political opinion, religion, ethnicity, race/nationality, or membership of a particular social group.
Reasons for the development of a multicultural society
• C19th: Jewish arrivals from Russia/Poland escaping persecution
• C19th: Irish people escaping from poverty in rural Ireland
• 1930s-40s: Jews and Poles escaping fascism and WW2
• 1948-60s: Caribbean workers invited to rebuild postwar Britain, mainly in public services
• 1950s-60s: Asians from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh escaping poverty and seeking work in public services and textile industries
• 1970s: east African Asians (mainly from Uganda) escaping persecution and Vietnamese escaping war
• 1980s-90s: eastern European refugees escaping from war and political unrest in Romania and former Yugoslavia
• 1990 onwards: growth in asylum seekers applications (125,000 people were allowed to settle in the UK in 2000, of these people (45,000were from Africa)
• 2000s: economic migration from Eastern Europe caused by the enlargement of the European Union, which enabled unrestricted migration by citizens of the new EU members in central and eastern Europe
Multiculturalism and the future
1. Ethnic groups integrate into wider society. They begin to influence the dominant culture of the country, the cultureevolves over time and cultural fusion occurs. The so called melting pot idea. This process continues over time as new ethnic groups enter the country.
2. The ethnic groups integrate into society, they retain their own culture, whilst adopting, or some aspects of, the dominant culture of the country, people have multiple identities. The ethnic groups live alongside the indigenous population called cultural pluralism.
3. Ethnic groups do not integrate into wider society, they retain their own culture and reject the dominant culture. So called Balkanisation.
Issues related to multicultural societies
– There has been legislation on anti-racism, employment rights and equal opportunities to combat discrimination, prejudice and racism. Despite this, the cost of state benefits can cause resentment and racial intolerance.
– In 2002 it was calculated that the net tax contribution of migrants to the UK economy was £2.5 billion per year and that a 1% population increase through migration can lead to a 1.25-1.5% increase in GDP (UK Home Office Statistics)
– Institute for Public Policy Research:
• Wide disparity in economic performance between and within nationalities
– Bangladesh-born people tend not to earn high incomes (less than £150 a week= low earners)
– Those from USA and Australia tend do well (£750 a week = high earners)
– ‘Migrants are filling jobs that natives will not do’ (The Economic and Fiscal Impact on Immigration).
– Multiple occupancy of rented accommodation in inner-city areas is widespread
– Ethnic minorities have been less successful in securing mortgage loans, which means that they are forced to use less conventional and more expensive forms of finance. This limits what they are able to afford.
– Ethnic minorities have been discriminated against in access to local authority housing: ‘rationalisation of residential space’
– More recently owner occupancy has increased and some more wealthy individuals have moved into suburban areas
– Geographical segregation still present
– Educational requirements: provision of special English lessons and bilingual programmes for parents and children
– Holiday patterns, school timetables and school meals have been modified in some areas to reflect its ethnic mix.
– Variation in educational attainment of different ethnic minorities is still examined. There is some evidence to suggest:
– Children from Black and Caribbean backgrounds are underachieving compared with the white population and other ethnic groups
– Performance of children from Indian, Pakistan and Chinese backgrounds appears on average to be better than that of white children. Ofsted has stated that the white ‘working class’ male is currently the lowest achiever in schools.
– A lack of resistance to childhood diseases among the children of newly arrived immigrants, and fears about immunisation.
– With increasing literacy and education along with literature on immunisation programmes concerns regarding immunisation are fewer
– Many ethnic minority groups tend to live in run-down inner-city areas, there remains a higher concentration of transmittable diseases.
– New migrants find it difficult to integrate and find a job if they do not speak English. This can be a particular problem for women, as they may be confined to the house and
immediate locality by family commitments, religious or cultural beliefs.
– Second-generation migrant children, educated in the UK, grow up speaking English and may have different aspirations to their parents. They are more likely to integrate more fully, and this can cause tension if they adopt the culture of the host country.
– Many migrants may follow a different religion from the host country, which may cause friction
Other social issues
– Possible pressure on public services (health, education and social services)
– Immigrant groups are often welcomed by their host communities. They can be seen as a positive influence providing much-needed workers, but also having a positive and
refreshing impact on diet, music, dress and language.
– Ethnic groups can become isolated from society around them and this can lead to mutual hostility between the communities. In the worst case this can lead to political and
religious extremism (note that religious and civic groups from both communities work together to try and promote mutual understanding and reduce conflict).