The academic obsession to write about #Brexit

Yes, I am acutely aware of the irony that a written blog post with this title entails, but the quality and quantity of responses from the academic community after the UK referendum have been quite astonishing.

First there were the anthropologists, 28 of them:
Twenty-eight anthropologists were asked to give their immediate – spontaneous, raw, unpolished – responses to Brexit, two days after the result came out. They all generated those responses (a total of 24 texts, as some were co-authored) in less than five days after the result. The full set of commentaries, which provide a remarkably comprehensive analysis of the Brexit phenomenon and its possible implications from an anthropological perspective
This was followed swiftly by media scholars who supplied 80 contributions:
Featuring 80 contributions from leading UK academics, this publication captures the immediate thoughts and early research insights on the 2016 Referendum on UK Membership of the European Union from the cutting edge of media and politics research.
Which brings me back to the anthropologists. Colleagues at Allegra already have 6 new blog posts up-a bit ironically after they just completed a thematic section on slow scholarship...

Given that all of what has really happened so far is that a non-binding referendum created a bit of kerfuffle inside UK politics, I am amazed about the widespread response-almost immediately after the fact.

A privileged class realizes how privileged they are
Even though denying that one is part of an elite is part of academic self-identification, many academics seem to realize that they actually do not have it so bad after all: EU capital city conference- and workshop-hopping, cross-national research projects with regular multi-cultural exchanges and even those dreaded classes with students from at least 8 different European countries are actually quite a luxury.
For many of us mobility, flexibility and ‘globalization’ have many benefits and sustain a cosmopolitan lifestyle and multicultural outlook. Among many other things, #Brexit was an eye-opener that these attitudes are neither the norm, nor that ‘everybody’ has incorporated them in their daily lives. One aspect of the fervent opposition to #Brexit may have to do with the fact that some (filter) bubbles got pinched about how ‘we’ all have become European and how natural European integration has been for many ‘normal’ people. The amount of soul-searching, reflection and academic
writing suggests that scholarly identities have been disturbed by the ca. 50% who voted the ‘wrong’ way.

They demanded ‘evidence’-so we gave them ‘evidence’…and then they simply ignored it

After 17,5 newspaper articles about the ‘ivory tower’, a 6-page annex to the research proposal on ‘dissemination strategies’ and 3 venting sessions at our favorite ‘surviving academia in the age of the neoliberal management administrator bogs’ pre-conference session, it has become clear that academia is already deeply integrated into our ‘post-…’ lifeworlds.

In the vain hope to ‘save’ an academy that was perfect for about 2 years between in 1974 and 1976, we became ‘public intellectuals’, addressed ‘policy-makers’ and provided 2-page summaries of 5-page policy briefs-alas, all the evidence got buried when a bunch of public school boys started treating real politics like a prank they played on the headmaster at St. Something-Or-Other college in 1988. Writing about #Brexit is also an opportunity to vent the frustration at those parts of the elite that promised rewards if we behaved well, advised them and then showed us the middle finger and simply buggered off. Buried underneath every hashtag or viral explosion of commentary is the powerlessness and frustration of a disenfranchised group, waving their USB sticks angrily at the next workshop where the in-group discusses another
special issue...

It feels exciting to break out of academic publishing straitjackets
My final point is more mundane, maybe even a bit nerdy, but many academic colleagues simply seem to enjoy writing differently about a current affairs event.
Short(er) essays, open access journal special issues, media commentaries or ‘I never write blog posts but this topic really got me thinking’ reflections; at the end of the day there seems to be a feeling that academia has more to offer than the standardized publication projects-although the number of edited books, conference proceedings and ‘proper’ academic journal articles will rise soon and dramatically. But a common theme seems to be that #Brexit provides a warming campfire of community-‘finally I can apply my research on 18th century farming tenure policies in Southern Italy to Brexit’…

So where do we go from here? To the next conference, of course ;)!

First of all, once it has become clear that the UK will not actually leave the EU we may ask ourselves how we should/could react (differently) to events in a mediatized, viral world. We are caught between a rock and a hard place-doomed if we buy into the media machinery too quickly, doomed if we leave digital space all too easily to
the other side.

So I do not have a good answer and I am as guilty as the next colleague when I contribute an op-ed on #LintonLies to a popular global news site and add to hash-tagged excitement.

In the meantime, we may need to sit back and think about ways of how our written expressions of helplessness can be channeled into something else-even if I am not sure what this ‘else’ really is right now…


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