The Strange 'Magic' of the British Honours System in a 'Globalising' World

Dr. Stella Maile,
Peter Archer
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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
Stream: Language, Linguistics, Other or Stream Unspecified
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Stella Maile

Senior Lecturer, Sociology, University of the West of England

Stella's research spans the areas of organisational sociology, work, identity, discourse analysis and globalisation. She has recently published on the subjects of stakeholding, governance, and the politics of best value, and has delivered international and national conference papers on work and identity and the governance of refugees. Stella is Director of the Corporate and Global Governance Research Group,based at UWE, which she set up as a vehicle to encourage inter-disciplinary research on governance. She sat for three years on the editorial board of the BSA journal Sociology and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Stella is currently working on a co-authored book which provides a critical analysis of the British Honours System.

Peter Archer

Freelance Journalist

Peter Archer has worked as journalist for thirty years. His reporting has been wide-ranging covering major news stories from the Falklands War, to Home Affairs and more recently has reported on the monarchy and rituals of the British Honours System. He is now pursuing more academically inclined research with colleague Stella Maile to critically explore the meaning of the UK Honours System and its related institutions of state and monarchy.

Ref: H06P0303