Believe it or not, the Cornish can occasionally be the butt of stereotypes. We’re ‘slow’, ‘backward’ or ‘living in the past’. Sometimes we collude with these, for example through the use of dreckly, turning the stereotype back onto its users in an ironic and postmodernist way. This is good for a laugh but some of the stories told about Cornwall have a more seriously negative effect. They help lock us into a peripheral and marginal status in relation to a centre that‘s perceived as more ‘dynamic’ and ‘innovative’.
How can we best challenge such negative discourses? A recent academic article by Joanie Willett offers one possibility. She argues that if the general public were made more aware of how the Cornish economy was actually performing and the skills gaps that exist, they could generate a new more positive and exciting narrative that might challenge older, demeaning myths (and newer ones).
As it is, according to this article, we’re stuck in a time warp where fishing, farming and mining are the only things ‘Cornish boys [sic] can do’. Blissfully unaware of the Cornish digital technology firms, creative industries and niche food producers who are blazing a path to post-industrial and post-carbon fuelled prosperity, the Cornish public persists in comforting and nostalgic memories of days long past. This helps reproduce the delusion that the only activity in Cornwall is tourism. If only we were more aware of the skills gaps.
This argument is interesting but is it too cynical to wonder if reversing negative stereotypes of Cornwall and the Cornish demands a little more than an informed knowledge of the local economy? Moreover, digital technologies, Cornish Camembert and the like aside, to some the Cornish economy looks more like a Ponzi scheme, driven by speculative housebuilding aided and abetted by central and local government. Estate agents then flog the extra houses as holiday homes or entice a new population duped into thinking Cornwall is a ‘lifestyle’.
To increase knowledge of the Cornish economy we first have to come to some sort of consensus as to what that economy involves. Is it zero hours contracts, low pay and a growing precariat? Or is it the gleaming new sectors breathlessly flourished and drooled over in planning documents? And what about the major employment sectors, which are actually healthcare and education? Or it might just possibly be all of these.