The Anthropologist’s Brexit

Anthropologists have responded to the result of the UK’s referendum to leave the European Union with a mixture of condemnation, despair, and reflection on the conditions that created ‘Brexit’ and the implications of the vote in the near and long term. We at the Culture and Capitalism blog have compiled some of those voices to illustrate how anthropologists are conceptualising and talking about these issues. We welcome more links to be shared in the comments section.

Awkward Island (a Welsh-Eurasian Perspective on ‘Brexit)’ (06 June and 24 June 2016) –  Chris Hann shares his deliberations before the referendum vote, diagnosing dysfunction in the EU—particularly around issues of migration—and wishing to embrace a less transatlantic and neoliberal cosmopolitanism. Unable to vote in the referendum for having lived too long outside the UK, Hann decides that for all the problems with the EU, the ‘fatuous, unappetizing propaganda of UKIP and other sections of the “Leave” campaign’ make a Remain vote necessary. After the ‘Leave’ result, Hann hopes that ‘Brexit could lead to a complete rethinking of European institutions and a return to basic democratic principles,’ but concludes more darkly that the ‘dangerous clowns’ who have midwived the referendum result are sure to have other ideas.

Initial Reflections on Brexit (24 June 2016) – Political anthropologist John Gledhill describes how after Brexit, Europeans either side of the English channel will undoubtedly ‘continue to live under the yoke of financialised, rent-seeking, capitalist economy, governed by people and institutions committed to austerity as the only conceivable solution to the system’s deepening contradictions, US-sponsored treaties designed to undermine national sovereignty in the interests of North Atlantic capitalist corporations, and indifferent to the social problems that deepening inequality causes.’ Reflecting on how the Brexit vote will affect the strategies and composition of national political parties, Gledhill calls for a ‘radically new politics’ that would address the increasing distance between the professional political elite and ‘the people’ who have suffered from austerity and the deterioration of living standards.

Thoughts on the Sociology of Brexit (24 June 2016) – Will Davies illustrates with five thought-provoking points how the Brexit vote is a symptom of a much deeper malaise affecting the areas that voted Leave. He argues that the government response to deindustrialisation in the North East and South Wales since the 1970s, coupled with the reliance of many agricultural and rural areas on EU subsidies, have created a dependency dynamic that could be seen in the elites’ sustaining the marginalised areas ‘through handouts, month by month.’ In this context, it is perhaps not so surprising that the Leave campaign slogan to ‘take back control’ proved successful. The dismissal of the facts, predictions and warning from the Remain campaign, and the lack of a post-Brexit vision, also illustrate a deeper mistrust of the capability of politics to deliver a brighter future, even from a vote for Brexit. For people who have given up on the ‘future,’ when a populist politician like Boris Johnson calls for Britain to become ‘great again,’ it is ‘not a pledge or a policy platform…it’s more an offer of a collective real-time hallucination, that can be indulged in like a video game.’

A Referendum to Advise Parliament on Membership of the EU Has Taken Place. Now it is Time for Parliament to do its Work (25 June 2016) – Andrea Cornwall reflects on some of the critical issues surrounding the recent EU referendum and what steps Parliament can take to ensure that this vote has positive, meaningful impact. Noting the generational gap that became apparent in the aftermath of the vote, as well as the feelings of anger and betrayal among voters who feel that they were misinformed by the Leave campaign, Cornwall emphasises that this referendum is an advisory—rather than legally binding—vote. Therefore, the referendum could be taken as an opportunity for Parliament to understand and address their constituents’ feelings and fears surrounding the EU in preparation for a second referendum. Cornwall argues that ‘only then should our political representatives come back to Westminster and take a vote, one that will be legally binding and on which basis Britain can then say that it has made a decision to Leave or to Remain.’

Waking up to Brexit (27 June 2016) – Paul Boyce reflects on learning that the Leave campaign had won, and considers what the vote reveals about the sense of hopelessness and abandonment that pervades many corners of British society. Recognising that the full implications of this historic vote are still unknown, Boyce concludes, ‘But the rupture of the moment will endure, a wake up call to take seriously the lives of others so easily abandoned and forgotten—on either side of the Leave/Remain divide.’

Anthropology, Brexit, and Xenophobia in Europe (28 June 2016) – Felix Stein’s piece reflects the shock of the referendum result and the subsequent ‘drift back into nationalism.’ Stein explores the idea that the result can be seen as a revolutionary-themed ‘disregard for bureaucratic elites’ and austerity, yet at the same time he is aware that economic conditions were not the sole determent. Stein points out the irony that the referendum was orchestrated by political elites, some of whom have captured ‘the public discourse so as to steer public grievances toward ethnic and racial “others” – away from their own austerity policies.’ Stein importantly raises the need for academics in social science and particularly anthropology, to enter public debates and challenge nationalist, xenophobic sentiments, and bring nuance to the discussions of culture and identity

On the UK Referendum (01 July 2016) – Jane Cowan relates the Brexit vote to Greece’s January 2015 referendum to decide whether the country should accept the Troika’s call for further austerity in exchange for a new bailout. Discussing the ‘critical in’ position of democratic reform ‘from below’ (advocated by much of the European Left), Cowan considers how ‘democracy’ itself is a concept very much at the centre of these debates.

#Brexit, Europe and Anthropology: Time to Say Something (01 July 2016) – Sarah Green, co-editor of the EASA journal Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale—not to mention a Finland-based, British anthropologist—leads a round-up of anthropological reactions to the Brexit vote on the Allegra Lab blog. These 24 commentaries (‘spontaneous, raw, unpolished’) from around the world just after the referendum passed ‘provide a remarkably comprehensive analysis of the Brexit phenomenon.’ The commentaries will be published in full later this month at Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale.


Title imageAll EU Need is Love by David B. Young. Creative Commons via flickr.

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