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Why becoming a national treasure matters: Elite celebrity status and inequality in the United Kingdom

Greer, C. ORCID: 0000-0002-8623-702X and McLaughlin, E. (2019). Why becoming a national treasure matters: Elite celebrity status and inequality in the United Kingdom. European Journal of Cultural Studies, doi: 10.1177/1367549419861630


This article presents the first analysis of ‘national treasure’as a status designation for an elitecategory of British celebritieswho holda unique position in the Great British hall of fame.The emergence of this status designationis situated in the context of two intersecting processes of cultural changein the post-War period –the rise of celebrity culture and the popularisationof the state honourssystem. It is proposedthat national treasure status results from the accumulation of three interlocking forms of validation: peer, state and media. After reviewing these underpinning forms of validation, we consider one of Britain’s most celebrated national treasures–Dame Judi Dench. The aim is toillustrate empirically the status elevation and sedimentation processes through which particular elite celebrities become national treasures, and the various ways in which they might respond to thisstatus designation. Though the term ‘national treasure’for many –including those so-designated –may seema trite term of endearment,we arguethat it is in factan ideological assemblageinvestedwithsignificance.On the one hand, national treasures help revalidate the notion of the authentic celebrity within an apparently meritocratic system that recognises and rewards talent, hard workand dedication. In a context of a relentlesslybleak newscycle, they are a wholly virtuousexpression of the national identity, signifying all that is great about Britain.On the other hand, although national treasures are constructed as being ‘of the people’, by authenticatingthe underpinning institutional forms of validation, their status transformation contributes to the legitimation and reproduction ofstatus hierarchies,cultural authorityand inequality in the UK.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Greer, C. and McLaughlin, E (2019). Why Becoming a National Treasure Matters: Elite Celebrity Status and Inequality in the UK. European Journal of Cultural Studies. Copyright © The Author(s).
Publisher Keywords: elites; celebritocracy;meritocracy; national treasure;state honours;status transformation
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: School of Arts & Social Sciences
Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2019 08:58
Text - Accepted Version
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