Brexit as postindustrial critique

Felix Ringel


Anthropologists and other commentators struggle to make sense of pre-COVID-19 political developments in the postindustrial Global North. Various narratives were created to explain these dramatic events and changes, deploying an armory of social science analysis. We could approach one of these worrying developments, Brexit, as a postindustrial phenomenon. To make this case, I will compare my ethnographic material from postindustrial German cities with my experience in North East England as a non-UK, EU citizen. Brexit is not just a delayed response to economic decline and insecurity, epitomized in the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent times of austerity. Rather, Brexit indicates that the former industrialized countries of the Global North have not yet redefined their political and economic organization. Further, they have not developed an idea of what life after the postindustrial crisis can look like. I show that anthropology can contribute to precisely this kind of future-thinking.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/709780