Brexit as Conjuncture?: Developments in the Modes of Production and Politics

Brexit is being considered the most important geopolitical development in the UK this century. It has already been cemented as a great plebiscitary revolt that has smashed the establishment narrative, repositioning British politics and causing a sudden change in the way the general electorate understand politics and government. In this sense, Brexit can be seen as a conjuncture, splitting open the common sense of modern politics in a fragmentary and indeterminable way. The way this conjunctural effect has evolved in the referendum vote and the resultant Brexit can be seen as a development of the extent of neoliberal subjectivity in the UK, where the economy has become practically depoliticised, removed from political/social critique, which the Leave campaign and the vast majority of Leave voters accepted as a political norm, as polling data and campaign discourse showed. Brexit then is a conjunctural revolt of culture, developing a half-way house lebenswelt that is pre-nascent, unable to develop a fully explanatory critique of modernity due to neoliberalism’s enclosure of the economy as an unquestionable dynamic of modern life.

The full study is here: Brexit as Conjuncture

In this essay I argue that Brexit must be understood as a conjunctural event that has discohered the way politics is understood in Britain. The de-axiomatised explanations of the EU referendum so far present a fragmented socio-economic explanation for both the European Union referendum result and for the political attitudes that characterise the resultant Brexit. However, looking through a neoliberal axiomatic understanding and a range of polling data related to the EU referendum, we can see that many voters who voted leave can be seen to be the discontents of globalisation, those left behind economically. However this macro-level variable does not cohere to the micro-level processes of the voters, who voted overwhelmingly due to cultural and national issues such as immigration and national sovereignty. Due to the extent of neoliberal subjectivation in the UK which individualises economic activity and creates a politics of consensus, economic issues became difficult to articulate as they lack a collective socio-economic subject. Thus the referendum acted as a de-economised catalyst, where people’s grievances were funnelled through a culturation of politics. This culturation is continuing post-referendum, as voters’ cultural and national concerns come to the fore of politics, leading toward processes of trasformismo and co-optation where the governing elites, particularly in the Conservative Party, are adopting this cultural rhetoric and re-engineering it into a form of neoliberalism with Brexit characteristics. Brexit then is not a revolt of the masses against neoliberal globalisation, but an event that is being slowly reabsorbed into the prevailing modes of production and politics. (Key words: Brexit, EU referendum, modes of politics, neoliberalism, subjectivation, conjuncture, governance)

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