The Sociological Review, 59(1) pp 109-128

Who, or what, is English? Drawing on qualitative interviews with white majority interviewees in three locations in England, this article explores local interpretations of English and Englishness. The article investigates the way members view their local environment as being ‘English’, and examines the criteria underpinning such interpretations. While various meanings are identified, it is found that Englishness is more often accomplished through talking about people and ethnicity rather than through the use of geography. That is, members defined the Englishness of place by referring explicitly to people. Rather than moving away from social categorical accounting, the category English was interpreted through the mobilisation of ‘non-English’ others. In this rhetorical context, an English place is antithetical to a multiethnic place. Instead the term English is used to refer to white majority people. Although Englishness was defined in opposition to multiculture, this was not necessarily done in such a way as to exclude non-English ‘others’. Above all, it reflects ambiguity amongst the white ethnic majority about how they can, and should, be named.