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The National Body

The Rights and Obligations of Citizenship

Documentary and the Public Sphere

The Nation Speaks



The Rights and Obligations of Citizenship

The 1938 Films of Scotland documentaries operate within a particular nexus of state, nation, and culture.  Although Scotland was still not a nation-state in the modern sense of the term, at the time of the Committee's activities it was by no means a stateless nation.  David McCrone (1992) argues that 'while Scotland surrendered its statehood in 1707, it retained much of the institutional apparatus of self-government' (p. 21), central to which since 1886 has been its own national, administrative apparatus, the Scottish Office.  Part of the Scottish Office's responsibility is the administration of the national education system which survived the Union.  The negotiation between nation, state and education is the central feature of The Children's Story (1938), another documentary produced by the Committee:

Voice Over: In Scotland today, the first country in the world to have universal education, the focus of attention is the nation's 800,000 children.  All over Scottish schools a revolution is taking place, teachers are discovering new ways to prepare their children for citizenship in the modern world.  Down the centuries Scotland built up a great school system founded on discipline and hard work.  Our people, often at great sacrifice to themselves, saw to it that every child, no matter what his creed or class had a chance of learning.

The documentary reflects Gellner's (1983) argument that one consequence of the state's 'monopoly of legitimate education' was that it produced 'fully socialised individuals' (p. 32), or as the documentary puts it, children prepared for 'citizenship in the modern world'.  Citizenship involves for the subject of the state both a set of civil, political and economic rights and a corresponding set of civil, political, and economic obligations; for instance it is both the right of access to the health authorities, educationists and child psychologists whose work the documentary introduces, and an obligation to sumit to their authority.  In the context of education in particular, citizenship is both a right and an obligation to know.  More specially still, it is the right and obligation to know particular things.  Like teaching practices, the documentary narrates how this too has taken a fundamental shift; for girls there is now 'more time devoted to mother craft, domestic economy and cookery, less concentration on Latin and Greek', while the boys learn the skills of industry and commerce.  This is an explicitly and highly gendered shift from pure to applied education; 'This is the Scotland of the future, a Scotland that is turning from the academic brains of the past, a Scotland bent on exploring to the full all the possibilities of life'. 

Health of a City
Glasgow Corporation sponsors Health of a City (1965) to demonstrate how they are meeting the rights of Glasgow's citizens

The National Interest

While the rights and obligations of citizenship abound in the overarching rhetoric of citizenship, in the British/Scottish context no codified bill of rights actually existed as Will Hutton (1996) argued:

"The British State conforms to no agreed rules nor clearly articulated principles; in other words, there is no written constitution, carefully setting out the functions of government and the rights and obligations of citizens.  If the state is careless about its constitution and thus its relationship with those in whose name it purports to rule, it can hardly be a surprise that such carelessness imbues the whole of civil society.  Notions of community, of membership, of belonging and of participation are established here or not at all." (p. 286)

This is crucial because it is in this public institutional climate that Films of Scotland operated.  This is explicit in both committees' primary aim of promoting, stimulating and encouraging the production of Scottish films of national interest, and 'the national interest' is at the very centre of the rights and obligations of citizenship.  One of the key roles of these 1938 documentaries was precisely to attempt to establish those notions of community, membership, belonging and participation that Hutton finds lacking in the British state.

The double edged sword of citizenship is reflected in the ambiguity of the notion of the state itself; '"The state" sometimes means an apparatus of government or power, sometimes the overall social system subject to that power' (Giddens, 1987, p. 17).  In the documentary, not only does it mean both, but both positions may be occupied by the same subject.  Hence the documentary's argument that Scottish schools 'are looking to the needs of their own country, to the needs of citizens who will take part in the government of modern Scotland.' The fundamentally contradictory experience of citizenship is most clearly articulated in the sequence at the end of the documentary where Sir William Macagnney, former permanent secretary of the Scottish Education Department is heard delivering a talk as part of the Scottish program for schools:

The Children's Story extract
The Children's Story (1938) documents the development of national education in Scotland

National Education

Sir William: You have inherited a great tradition, you must prove yourselves worthy of it.  You, who are to be the citizens of the future, must try to understand the privileges you enjoyed as members of a great democracy, you must preserve and develop these privileges, and mould them to the needs of our changing world.  That, children of Scotland, is the part you have to play as world citizens.  If you play it well, you can be assured that the fame of Scotland shall continue to be great among other nations.

This rhetoric of inheritance, privilege, and opportunity belies the extent to which education, as the instrument of citizenship, is both an invitation and an obligation.  What is crucial is the role of the mass media in disseminating that education, allowing the sanctioned voice of state authority to reach the national collectivity, the 'children of Scotland', the state administers over.  More generally, both The Children's Story and Scotland for Fitness reproduce what Giddens has described as 'one of the major characteristics of the modern state': the state's regulation of the child's education, like the state's regulation of the adult's physical body, reflects 'a vast expansion of the capability of state administrators to influence even the most intimate features of daily activity' (p. 10).  But the notion of inheritance that informs The Children's Story, which as we shall see also informs many of the Films of Scotland travelogues, draws attention to another function of nationalised education:

Voice Over: Small wonder that the Scottish universities should send out into the world writers like Smollet, Carlyle and Walter Scott, philosophers like David Hume, scientists like Lord Kelvin, surgeons like Lister and Sir William McEwan.  [...] in practical schools and technical college alike, the old spirit is still Films of Scotlandtered, the spirit of initiative of study that made Scotland's industries famous throughout the world. [...] Behind these Scottish schools lies a great record of achievement, they have given to Britain soldiers, statesmen, engineers, men who helped to shape an empire.

Gellner (1983) argues that one key result of a standardised national education system is the production of a shared national culture.  The nationalisation of education not only trained the emerging workforce in the skills necessary for industrialisation, and the documentary makes that clear, it also produces citizens with 'the distinctive style of conduct and communication' (p. 92) peculiar to that nation and embodied in particular national figures.  In the film, the particular histories of Scott, Hume and Lister are reworked into a tradition of education, a tradition of initiative, brains and industry.  This replacement of local folk cultures with a single 'shared culture', argues Gellner, means that the nation should be seen as a political community linked not only to the state, but also to the cultural boundary (p. 63).

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Author: Richard Butt Images are drawn from the SCRAN database.