The anatomy of break-up
in The break-up of Greater Britain
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This introductory chapter addresses two key issues. First, the anatomy of ‘break-up’ as a recurring theme in British historiography and social commentary since the 1960s, and the long habit of ascribing the loosening bonds of the Union to the ‘dynamic absence’ of empire. Here, it is shown that the link between the end of empire and the ‘break-up of Britain’ is rarely, if ever established beyond a crude caricature. Second, the absence at the heart of the equation is squarely addressed, surveying the interpretative possibilities (and the conceptual difficulties) of endowing the properties of ‘break-up’ with a much wider territorial and cultural remit. It is argued that the end of empire was not simply an inert backdrop to the realignment of national allegiances in Britain but entailed simultaneous challenges to notions of collective selfhood among a vast constituency of peoples and cultures around the world, equally engaged in extricating themselves from the obsolete totems of empire and Britishness – unevenly and with widely varying outcomes. Indeed, valuable perspective can be gained from putting the travails of the Union in their proper perspective; as just one of any number of civic ruptures occasioned by the serial dislocations of decolonisation.


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