Cornish Culture & Tourism – A Fine Line Between Authenticity and Disneyfied Kernow – Part Two

Continuing the publication of the paper that I made to the Gorsedh Kernow Conference. In this week’s second part, we begin to look at the results of my primary data, and an Endangered Language researcher speaks out about threat of cultural homogenization in Cornwall, we discover some of the views of the Cornish young and highlight English Heritage’ missed opportunities to boost Cultural Capital on indigenous Cornish matters.


My primary data generation consisted of twenty-three individual interviews, carried out in person, on the phone, by email or via Skype. These took place between November 2016 and February 2017 with further interviews carried out between May and August 2017. I ran five focus groups in different locations between January and February 2017 which were attended by a mix of Cornish born people and in-comers. The largest focus group was attended by ten people, the smallest by six, and the total number of people attending them was thirty-two. There was an even split of male and female attendees with 28% of those taking part being forty or under, and 18% of participants being in-comers.

What became pretty apparent when I examined the results of my data was that people’s concerns broke down, pretty broadly into two issues. Firstly, the influence of individuals or bodies which are either not based in Cornwall or, if they are, are not perceived to have sufficient positive relationships with Cornish Cultural and Historical groups and secondly, what appeared to be an inability by tourism bodies or site managers in Cornwall to grasp how to tap into the burgeoning Cornish cultural scene. Taking each of these concerns in turn, I will now highlight the issues that the focus groups and interviews flagged up and examine the response of some of the tourism bodies and site owners in Cornwall when I put these matters to them subsequently, and then, use all of the information gathered to propose some methods of making Cornish social, cultural and historical groups feel more included and taking more of a leading role in the presentation of Cornish culture in the tourism industry in the territory. NB This will be reported in Parts Two to Four of this blog representation of the Gorsedh paper.

The phenomena that the representation of indigenous culture and history in Cornwall is being, at best distorted and at worst wilfully ignored for what a number of respondents felt may be political reasons was something that resonated strongly. Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard Merv Davey said:

“English Heritage’s control of the interpretation of Cornish sites is political control of history. The anger at English imperialism might draw in people to support (the) Cornish (language) who otherwise might not be concerned.”

Archeologist and author Craig Weatherhill went further with his opinion on the present situation with the tourist industry:

“Visit Cornwall, the National Trust and English Heritage have shown themselves over several decades that they are utterly incapable of delivering genuine Cornish culture…their senior staff are largely imported into Cornwall from outside. At Tintagel, the carving on Merlin’s face into a cliff-face supposedly protected under SSSI designation is an example of burying Cornish history under a plethora of largely spurious legend.””

A researcher in Endangered Languages at SOAS, University of London told me that these “specific instances of attack, such as Disneyfication of beloved landmarks” is simply part of a wider narrative which she sees as “cultural homogenization and a very hard metaphorical slap in the face to the Cornish.” This viewpoint was found in several other people’s opinions – that misrepresentations of Cornish culture is just one example of several battles that Cornwall is facing – whether it be through numbers of in-comers moving into the territory, second homes and lack of affordable housing and the Devonwall parliamentary constituency concerns. One of my respondents highlighted the consequences of this:

“There is a lack of teaching of our separate history, culture or language, so the Cornishness comes out of us. The Cornish are hanging onto their identity by their fingernails.”

Under the present Devolution Deal, it is not possible for Cornish schools to be able to have specific lessons in each year group on specific Cornish history, or even where events in England were felt and experienced completely differently in Cornwall. Yet, despite this, there are high hopes that children in the territory, who are growing up in an era where both Kernewek and the renaissance of a number of Cornish cultural events is increasingly visible, may possibly grow up wanting to do something about it. School Census data (previously known as PLASC data) shows that the number of pupils in Cornwall who self-identified as Cornish rose every year from 2006, when 23.7% of pupils stated they were Cornish rather than English to 2013 (the last data set available) when the figure had grown to 46% – a total of 32,254 out of 70,097 pupils (Ethnicity breakdown from the schools census – Cornwall Council 2006-2013). My respondents in all locations felt that the National Curriculum first needed to recognise and encourage the teaching of Cornish culture and Cornish history more widely in the territory’s schools – something which is still notably lacking due to, what one person described as “the provision of teacher training in Cornwall, which gives no additional time in their training on local history and culture or on the Cornish language”. A cut in funding for Kernewek from Westminster, and budget restrictions that schools are facing nationwide has created a vicious circle whereby schools that may be keen to embrace Kernewek and Cornish culture are prevented to due to lack of timetable space and money. Yet, should awareness of Cornish culture and history continue to grow, there are grounds for positivity about the role that the territory’s young people will play, and the recent initiative of a family Cornish language learning group at Heartlands on Saturday mornings, initiated by Loveday Jenkin and Rob Lawrance is another sign of what this could, potentially mean in the future.

Despite this, it appears that tourist site owners have not really caught up with the momentum. The use of duel language signage at museums or tourist sites is notably lacking. Is this because, as one bard of the Gorsedh Kernow asserted that he suspects there is “a concerted campaign to weaken Cornish identity, as in certain quarters there is a perception that an emboldened Cornish identity is a threat.” Or even perhaps, as a former Grand Bard told me, that there are fears that “monoglot speakers don’t understand, or want to understand what others are doing.” I believe, if this is the case, the likes of Visit Cornwall, English Heritage and the National Trust are missing a trick. Many of the sites that the latter two institutions own are ones which, it could be asserted, people would visit in an attempt to boost their Cultural Capital.

For Bourdieu & Passeron (1977), Cultural Capital is “a mechanism for the transmission of social status…(and) can be differentiated into three sub-forms; institutionalised, incorporated and objective” (Moskal: 2016: p 143). It is the institutionalised cultural capital that interests us most in this particular case. Here, capital is accrued due to an individual’s success in gaining language learning skills and cultural exposure with resulting intellectual and financial consequences (Georg: 2004 and Smala et al: 2013). Exposure to Kernewek, or Cornish culture at such tourist sites is an example of allowing visitors to gain an additional knowledge and skills, which sets such a person apart from those who do not possess such abilities (MacLeod: 1987, McCollum: 1999, Polanyi: 1995). The motivation and skills that can be perceived to be part of exposure to such phenomena are, for Norton (2013) “a range of symbolic resources (language, education, friendship)…which will in turn increase the value of their cultural capital” (p 6). The socio-economic background of people who may be expected to visit such sites in Cornwall, Tsimprea Maluch et al (2015) have noted should be those who would be actively interested in separate cultures and language.

John Pollard, the then leader of Cornwall Council highlighted to me the potential consequences of the likes of English Heritage and the National Trust taking on a more open minded approach to Cornish culture when he said:

“Growing awareness of our heritage and language is an important element. We need to open up people to the different culture and history of Cornwall…(people) need to take on board local issues and feeling.”

NEXT WEEK: The views of Visit Cornwall and the National Trust, plus English Heritage’s perspective on how they incorporate Cornish history and identity in their sites and what they describe as their “sensible new interpretation” at Tintagel.


Bourdieu, P. (1977): ‘Outline of a theory of Practice’: Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Bourdieu, P & Passeron, J-C. (1977): ‘Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture’ translated by Nice, R. Sage: London.

Bourdieu, P. (1991): ‘Language and Symbolic Power: The Economy of Linguistic Exchanges’: Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ethnicity breakdown from the schools census – Cornwall Council (2006-2013) Available at (Accessed on 7th April 2017).

Georg, W. (2004): ‘Cultural Capital and social inequality in the life course’: in European Sociological Review Vol. 20 No. 4.

MacLeod, J. (1987): ‘Ain’t no makin’ it: levelled aspirations in a low-income neighbourhood: Westview Press: Boulder: CO.

McCollom, P. (1999): ‘Learning To Value English: Cultural Capital in a Two-way Bilingual Program’ in Bilingual Research Journal: Vol. 23 No. 2-3.

Moskal, M. (2016): ‘Language and cultural capital in school experience of Polish children in Scotland‘ in Race, Ethnicity and Education Journal, Vol 19 Issue 1.

Norton, B. (2013): ‘Identity and Language Learning: Extending the Conversation:’ Multilingual Matters: Bristol.

Polanyi, L. (1995): ‘Language Learning and Living Abroad: stories from the field’ in Freed, B (ed): ‘Second language acquisition in a study abroad context’: John Benjamins: Amsterdam/Philadelphia.

Smala, S., Bergas Paz, J., Lingard, B. (2013): ‘Languages, Cultural Capital and School Choice: distinction and second-language immersion programmes’ in British Journal of Sociology of Education: Vol. 34 No. 3.

Tsimprea Maluch, J., Kempert, S., Neumann, M., Stannat, P. (2015): ‘The effect of speaking a minority language at home on foreign language learningin Learning and Instruction Journal Vol. 36.



  1. AMELIA ALLEN · January 10

    Hi there,
    Really interesting blog. I am currently working on some research on Cornish heritage for my MA and would love to get in touch to find out a bit more!


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