Popular imaginative geographies and brexit: evidence from mass observation

Clarke, Nick and Moss, Jonathan (2021) Popular imaginative geographies and brexit: evidence from mass observation. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. ISSN 0020-2754

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The EU Referendum of 2016 was one of the most significant events in recent British political history. It is widely recognised that citizens engaged with the referendum through understandings of Britain, the EU, the world, and their place in it. This study compliments existing research where such understandings have been inferred from citizens’ demographic characteristics, the characteristics of their localities/regions, or elite discourses. It builds on existing research where a more direct engagement with citizens’ understandings has been achieved through interviews or focus groups, allowing the content of understandings to be thickly described. To these latter studies, this article makes three main contributions. First, it focuses on popular imaginative geographies, which are conceptualised drawing on literatures in Geography and Political Science as fast‐thinking heuristics. Second, it brings new evidence to the conversation in the form of volunteer writing for Mass Observation. Third, the focus is on the content of popular imaginative geographies, but also how and why such geographies were used by voters in the referendum. The main findings include that many Leave supporters imagined Britain as an island – either a once great military and imperial power, an island separate from Europe, needing freedom from Europe to engage in the wider world; or a small island, a full container, close to the rest of Europe and vulnerable to mobilities across Europe’s borders. By contrast, many Remain supporters imagined Britain as post‐imperial, small, vulnerable, and under threat of isolation from Europe and exposure to a chaotic, uncertain, dangerous world. Both groups engaged with the referendum through such popular imaginative geographies because the referendum presented voters with a difficult task, the campaigns provided few trustworthy facts, and voters therefore had to rely on cognitive shortcuts, including popular imaginative geographies.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Britain, EU Referendum, Brexit, Imaginative Geographies, Mass Observation
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Politics
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 15 Mar 2021 08:44
Last Modified: 15 Mar 2021 08:45
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/97766

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