This project will investigate how residents of four urban areas in England think about Brexit and its consequences. It will study their hopes, aspirations and anxieties about the future after Brexit. The research will focus on four electoral wards in three English cities. These are places where large post-industrial, social and economic changes, together with government policies of austerity, have contributed to experiences of marginalisation and exclusion amongst many residents. They have been identified in social scientific, political and media accounts as 'left behind' places.
It has been argued that the referendum provided residents of 'left-behind' communities the opportunity for a 'protest vote'. Not merely a protest against the EU (although of course many voters were doing precisely that), but also a protest against, for example, establishment politics (Westminster), the detrimental effects of austerity, the forces of globalisation, the tyranny of market fundamentalism, and immigration policies. The argument that a vote to leave the EU demonstrated defiance and mistrust is significant. However, it tends to screen out residents of the same localities who voted to remain, those who did not vote, and those who were not permitted to vote. It flattens the diversity within such communities and assumes a unified response. This project will investigate what Brexit means, two years after the referendum, to people on the ground. We hear from politicians that 'Brexit means Brexit'. But what does it mean for ordinary people? What does it mean in relation to their everyday preoccupations and concerns? Does Brexit feature in the futures they imagine? Or in the futures they have abandoned? Is it significant to them, and if so how?
The project will provide a more nuanced and fine-grained account of what Brexit means for residents of urban England than we have thus far. It will include research participants in the design, conduct and presentation of the research in ways that will facilitate their participation in discussions about governance that are usually about them but rarely include them. It also looks beyond the current emphasis on division and explores the commonalities and connections across social categories and places, in order that communities and policy makers have something meaningful to work with, rather than against.