The Strange 'Magic' of the British Honours System in a 'Globalising' World
This paper explores the structure, function and meaning of the British Honours System in the context of rapid external social change. Drawing on official reports and primary data based on attendance at investitures and qualitative interviews, we explore the cultural dimensions of a system that remains overwhelmingly entrenched and constrained by its history and institutional dynamics in an otherwise ‘de-traditionalising’ world. There have been numerous calls for radical reform and, in some cases, the abolition of the institution due to its colonial associations and inherent elitism. Its symbolic significance for issues of class, gender and ethnicity require little exposition when one explores its historical roots and processes surrounding the nomination and award of honours and the honours themselves. However, what is of particular interest is the way in which this highly traditionalist system is represented to the general public in the face of alternative official discourses of ‘cultural diversity’ (as an aspect of ‘modern Britain’), and the emphasis that has been placed in recent years on the radical overhaul of public services and institutions in general, to be more ‘accountable’, ‘transparent’, ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’.
In this paper we analyse the conflicting and fused discourses that are in operation in a system that sits between state and crown; the limitations and dynamics of those discourses in the face of countervailing public pressures and cultural identifications, and the ways in which calls for radical reform are fielded and diluted by key players in the policy making process.
Keywords: Honours, Investiture, Symbolic, Traditionalist, De-traditionalising, representation, Discourse, Cultural diversity, History, Institutional dynamics, Colonial, Elitism, Policy, Dynamics
Dr. Stella Maile
Senior Lecturer, Sociology, University of the West of England