In the beginning, it is said, was Brexit. “Brexit is a revolution”, it is said from the right and by the left. Revolution, though, is a Janus-faced concept that “evokes dialectically linked oppositions: light and darkness; rupture and continuity; liberation and oppression; hope and disillusion”, determined Arno J. Mayer (2000: 23). But was Brexit the beginning? Well, this is debatable. Hannah Arendt rightly insisted that “revolutions are the only political events which confront us directly and inevitably with the problem of beginning” (1963: 22). So while revolutions abruptly pose the problem of beginning, the question arises whether Brexit was nonetheless the end of the beginning? Let us hope, however, that was not the beginning of the end, as sighted in his time by Karl Polanyi.
Among the innumerable manifestations, Brexit is an additional substantial example of the ontological axiom of the mutual embeddedness of State-Economy-Society. This geopolitical shift certainly reflected deep socio-economic fault lines within and beyond the UK and Europe. This shift apparently projected the trajectory ahead.
Two days after the Brexit referendum, at the excellent SASE conference held in University of California–Berkeley was spontaneously organized a seminar to mull over this disconcerting passage. Socio-Economic Review, the SASE’s outstanding journal, then issued a call for short papers to tackle this topic. These initiatives resulted in SER’s Discussion Forum “Brexit: Understanding the Socio-economic Origins and Consequences” and an online collection “Brexit Special“. (Both are open-access, as it always should be regarding academic publications)
In these focused essays, leading economic sociologists and political economists shed light and analyze Brexit, from various theoretical perspectives and empirical angles. They draw attention to the origins of the Brexit vote in socio-economic divisions (Jackie O’Reilly), widening differences in economic performance across sectors and regions of the UK (Julie Froud, Sukhdev Johal and Karel Williams) and the growth of poor quality jobs (Chris Warhurst). Meanwhile, the political dynamics of the Brexit vote were also shaped by the fractured nature of UK business elites (Glenn Morgan), divisions between locals and cosmopolitans (Christopher Grey) and creative but muddled actions of elites that arguably generated consequences they themselves failed to fully anticipate (Geoffrey Wood and Mike Wright). Class matters and interests impact.
Robert Boyer argues that Brexit reflects a history of dysfunctional economic policy in Europe that prioritized market competition in ways that neglected and ultimately undermined solidarity. According to Sabine Frerichs and Suvi Sankari, Brexit reflects a political strategy to both renationalize and recommodify solidarity in the face of fears over migration. However, Brexit is unlikely to provide a durable social and political solution to the wider tensions between globalization and democracy, which also affect all countries throughout Europe — asserts Akos Rona-Tas. Ultimately, the Brexit vote underlines social divisions that combine class inequalities with regional ones, not just in Britain but throughout Europe, concludes Patrick Le Galès.
Additional interesting insights concisely elaborated (here) by Eoin Flaherty in “Northern Ireland’s economy post-Brexit”; Özlem Onaran and Alexander Guschanki in “Rising inequality in the UK and the political economy of Brexit: lessons for policy”; Olivier Choinière and Bernier Arcand Philippe in “Brexit: is this truly a victory of the people against the elite?”; Bryn Jones and Michael O’Donnell in “Dangerous Myths in the post-Brexit Narrative”; Geoff Evans in “Brexit: The Democratic Expression of the Class Struggle”; Jonathan Preminger in “The reemergence of the nation-state and an opportunity for the Left”; David McCourt in “Brexit and Britain’s Role in the World”; Gabriel Fernandes and Rocha Guimarães in “Brexit: the return of fascist ultra-nationalism?”; Christopher Cocking in “Brexit and psycho-social influences on aggression – I predict a riot?”; Thomas Prosser in “Populism, Brexit and the decline of civil society: two proposals for the rejuvenation of civil organizations”; Jayne Woolford in “The “questionable strategies and woolly outcomes” of EU funds in Wales: lessons and implications for post-Brexit regional economic development policy”; Jo Wilding in “Brexit and the future of UK immigration”; Tim Vlandas in “Labour market factors and the Brexit vote”; Ulrike Theuerkauf in “Socio-Economics, politics and the Brexit vote: Why the rise in racist incidents won’t just go away”; Aseem Prakash and Nives Dolsak in “Manufacturing Dissent: How The New York Times’ Covered the Brexit Vote”; David Bailey in “What does Brexit mean for UK Automotive, Manufacturing, and Industrial Policy?”; Edward Ashbee in “Brexit, the Leave campaign, immigration and processes of ideational change”; and by Jane Woods in “Impact of Brexit on Contract Law”.
To summarize, I shall turn to the beginning of this post, wandering about the essence of Brexit. Certainly, this is an ongoing institutional trajectory. The question is — and I certainly reject deterministic linear projections — where is this trajectory going.
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