The student of culture is often placed in a position to make statements such as: The English never (eat garlic, have coffee ...), or The English always (prefer tea, dress up for high tea ...). However, if there is an English person around, such generalisations necessarily meet strong feelings – no person likes being boxed into a stereotype, most generalisations are felt as straightjackets for genuine interest. That is why studying culture requires subtle methodologies.
Concept Investigation adopts a small culture approach1 where concrete events are observed and described, a range of resources is included and the presentation acknowledges the sources and the reactions, without bundling together instances and building stereotypes.
1. Choose a concept of interest to you, and typical of English culture: e.g., trainspotting, commuting, lollipop lady etc. There is a list of such concepts in the course on BC – ENGB517.
2. Check a definition in an English-English dictionary for a good description of what the concept implies. You can use Oxford English Dictionary, which will also give you the etymology and the changes through history.
3. See whether you can find statistical data about the concept from the resources on the course page ENGB517. Not all concepts allow for quantification, but some data – e.g., the commute for each European country, the number of people engaged in train spotting etc. – can be instructive.
4. Check the British National corpus. Use the link in the course. You can see in which genres the term is used, which attributes modify the term, which verbs are used with it, does it associate with nouns etc. From the search you can establish fiction where the term is used and media texts.
5. Look for uses of the concept in media. Which media have published material about the concept? What claims are made? Why?
6. Check whether the concept is used in literary texts – poems, songs, films etc. Analyze critically the text – what metaphors are used, are there similes etc.? What effect is achieved with these figures of speech?
7. Put all the data together and report it with reference to YOUR material. Do not attempt OVERREACHING conclusions.