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The Sociology of Royalty

Duncan Hall

12th September 2022

We look back at a classic 1953 article by Shils and Young about the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. "The heart has its reasons that the mind does not suspect".

Why, asked Shils and Young, did people find it so hard to explain why they held street parties for the coronation? It was difficult to explain in rational terms, or in relation to ideas about politics or the constitution. Instead explanations tended to be more emotional and religious: the sacred rather than the profane. This was classic Durkheim stuff: "a great act of national communion" acting as social glue to reaffirm the collective consciousness and collective sentiment.

At the end of the second Elizabethan era, and before the next coronation, how much has really changed? Shils and Young's narrative is remarkably familiar. Still there is very little conversation in political science about monarchy and alternatives to monarchy; still there is collective sentiment about royalty and indeed censure for any deviant communication that differs from that collective sentiment.

If we were to write a 21st century update to this article, what would we add? Bellah's ideas of civil religion may assist us here. But what of the contribution of conflict theories, let alone post-modern ideas? This could be a very interesting way to stretch and challenge students about their understanding of sociological theory.

Duncan Hall

Duncan Hall is Subject Lead for Politics and Sociology for tutor2u. Duncan is an experienced social science and humanities teacher, writer and senior examiner. He has taught Politics and Sociology A Level for many years and has a PhD in Social History.

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