Beyond Britishness: the Construction of Identities in Literature and Culture
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleLET-ETCENB205
Credits (ECTS)5
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Arts; English Language and Culture;
dr. R.H. van den Beuken
Other course modules lecturer
dr. R.H. van den Beuken
Other course modules lecturer
Contactperson for the course
dr. R.H. van den Beuken
Other course modules lecturer
dr. R.H. van den Beuken
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2020
PER 3-PER 4  (25/01/2021 to 31/08/2021)
Starting block
Course mode
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesYes
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
At the end of the course, the student will be able to
• discuss and reflect on the often problematic, heterogeneous manifestations of Britishness in cultural products;
• critically analyse various interrelated aspects of cultural identities (e.g. ethnicity, language, gender) and explain the ways in which literary texts engage with the construction of such identities; 
• demonstrate a comprehensive awareness of current scholarly debates on cultural identities by applying relevant theoretical frameworks to interpretations of literature and other forms of cultural expression. 
In an article published on the BBC News site on 2 March 2012, Mark Easton observes that defining Britishness is like “painting wind”: Britishness cannot be nailed down and, like all identities, is subject to continuous change. Easton’s claims reflect a growing awareness in academia over the past decades that Britishness is a fluctuating, heterogeneous phenomenon that can have different meanings in various contexts, depending on issues such as religious conviction, sexual preference, class background, gender and ethnicity. The consequent broadening of Britain’s literary, historical and cultural canons has not only led to renewed attention to forgotten writers and artists from the past, but has also ignited a growing interest in literatures in English written in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and former colonies.

With today’s process towards Brexit, debates about Britishness have been reignited, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Ethnic and political union as well as identification have come under pressure. Class divides and lack of trust in the political establishment representing national union have become painfully visible through the results of the 2016 referendum. New forms of chauvinism and debates about integration and equal opportunities, triggered amongst others by the December 2016 Casey report and internal terrorist threats, have brought poverty and migration back on political agendas. While, as Zoe Williams wrote in The Guardian of 18 December 2016, today’s “politics of patriotism” tend to foreground homogenising British values, Britishness is “pluralist by definition”. It is this pluralism that we will explore in a variety of contexts. 

During this course we will critically interrogate Britishness as it is expressed in various cultural products, including the visual arts, film, and television, but a particular focus on contemporary literature. We will move beyond traditional concepts of being British, by examining – through insights from the fields of memory, (post)colonial, imagological, queer and gender studies – how in texts written in the United Kingdom and the (former) British Empire, alternative processes of identity formation are constructed and negotiated. We will explore, for example, magical realist refugee fiction, postcolonial drama, and queer rewritings of the literary canon; investigate the function of contested national histories in the visual arts; as well as analyse the configurations of transcultural identities in the (post-)imperialist contexts of migration and multicultural society, with special attention for the tensions that have arisen in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

Presumed foreknowledge
Students should have a basic understanding of literary analysis and literary theory (e.g. by completing the B1 course 'Reading Literature') and preferably have some knowledge about British history (e.g. by completing the B1 course 'British Culture & History').
Test information


Required materials
'Britannia calls a meeting, to listen to her people. Caledonia, Cymru, East Midlands, North East, Northern Ireland and the South West bring the voices of their regions. The debate is passionate and opinions divided. Can there ever be a United Kingdom?'
Title:My Country: A Work in Progress (2017)
Author:Carol Ann Duffy, Rufus Norris
Other required texts: to be announced.
'A taut, gripping tale of a young woman and an Iron Age reenactment trip that unearths frightening behavior.'
Title:Ghost Wall (2018)
Author:Sarah Moss
'[A]n audacious love story that weaves together disparate lives into an exploration of transhumanism, artificial intelligence, and queer love.'
Title:Frankissstein (2019)
Author:Jeanette Winterson
'A New York Times bestseller, the astonishingly visionary love story that imagines the forces that drive ordinary people from their homes into the uncertain embrace of new lands.'
Title:Exit West (2018)
Author:Mohsin Hamid
'The collection’s title points to the underlying philosophy expressed in these poems: that earthly joy is, or ought to be, just within, but is often just beyond our reach, denied by racism, misogyny, physical cruelty and those with the class power to deny others their share of worldly goods and pleasures.'
Title:A Portable Paradise
Author:Roger Robinson

Instructional modes
Attendance MandatoryYes


Test weight20
Test typeOral exam
OpportunitiesBlock PER 3, Block PER 3

Minimum grade

Test weight30
Test typeProject
OpportunitiesBlock PER 4, Block PER 4

Minimum grade

Take-Home Exam
Test weight50
Test typeProject
OpportunitiesBlock PER 4, Block PER 4

Minimum grade