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Four frames for (mis)understanding Brexit: three red herrings and a white whale

Research profile seminar

This talk will identify and critique the major economic, political and nationalist frames used in the UK in relation to Brexit, including the nostalgic hunt for past purity (the white whale), which has been integral to Brexit.

Since the Brexit discussion began (spring 2016) several frames have been posited for understanding the dynamics of this multifaceted phenomenon. This paper will critically engage with three of these. They contain partial truths but oversimplify. the socioeconomic & cultural 'left behind' thesis: disadvantaged and abandoned people voted against the establishment; the populist frame: the elite political class benefit from the EU and the status quo. The interests of the people would be better served by withdrawing from the EU; voters with more nationalist leanings voted for sovereignty against the control of the EU;
Lastly, a fourth frame will be developed, linking the question of immigration and the authoritarian-libertarian scale through the ideas of nostalgia and homesickness. From this perspective, UKIP's 2015 demand that 'We want our country back!', remixed by the Leave campaign, appealed to those wishing, like Cher, to turn back time - to a perceived whiter moment of national preference, where home was a creaking economic consensus.

The argument is developed out of an initial set of research projects carried out in England over the 2004-2011 period that highlight the importance of Englishness (as opposed to Britishness) and the breadth of resistance to the idea of multiculturalism - years before the EU referendum (Clarke and Garner, 2010; Garner, 2012: Garner 2015).

This nostalgia is distinguished in the British case by the significance of Empire, and the competing nationalisms of the UK: it is characterised in the paper as a hunt for the 'white whale': you chase and obsess over it but never capture it. The project of hunting for the 'white whale' displaces and refracts a number of other slow-cooking crises. Some of these (like the break-up of the UK) are specific, and others, like the populist backlash tied to a racialised imagination of the nation that 'we' supposedly desire, are more widely experienced in different national contexts.


Steve Garner is Senior Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University. He has also worked in France, Ireland, the USA and England, and has published widely on racisms and their intersections with class and nation.

He is the author of 'Whiteness: an introduction' (Routledge), 'Racisms' (Sage) and 'Racism in the Irish Experience' (Pluto). His most recent book is 'A Moral Economy of Whiteness' (Routledge).

He has also published in journals such as 'Sociology', 'Ethnic and Racial Studies', and 'Identities'. He has held Visiting Professorships in at the universities of Paris VII and at UCLA, and is editorial team member of 'Sociology of Race and Ethnicity'.

Lecturer: Steve Garner, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, UK

Date: 3/11/2020

Time: 1:15 PM - 3:00 PM

Categories: Social Sciences , Equal value & equal opportunities, Interdisciplinary, Diversity, Economics and Law , International

Organizer: CGM and MERGU

Location: Deptartment of Sociology and Work Science F417

Contact person: Centrum för Global Migration

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Page Manager: Webbredaktionen|Last update: 4/20/2017
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