Nationalism, Inequality and England’s Political Predicament  book cover
1st Edition

Nationalism, Inequality and England’s Political Predicament

ISBN 9781138086579
Published April 3, 2019 by Routledge
188 Pages

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Book Description

Based on fine-grained ethnographic research in an English city, this book offers a highly original perspective on England’s contemporary political predicament. It argues that some of the most influential academic accounts of the country's current political situation, particularly those focusing on culture or racism, have neglected the key role of nationalism as an often unspoken, banal political principle and framing ideology. Suggesting that economic inequalities remain the key causal ingredient of English political life and, crucially, that these are being interpreted by individuals in relation to a nationalist/cosmopolitan ideological axis, the author argues that any effective, progressive political future will require a reinvigorated sense of political community. Proposing a politics that will promote both nationhood and cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, Inequality and England’s Political Predicament advocates a seemingly contradictory but necessary approach by which explicitly anti-nationalist and anti-racist principles coexist expediently alongside short-term protectionist and immigration control policies.

Table of Contents

Introduction: explaining England’s political predicament  1. Contemporary nationalist politics in England: inequalities, culture and racism  2. Researching nationhood, nationalism and politics  3. Feeling overlooked: economic precariousness and political outlooks  4. Nationalist politics among the overlooked  5. Affluence, politics and place   6. Nationalism, cosmopolitanism and nationscepticism among the more affluent and mobile  7. Conclusion: nationhood, cosmopolitanism and England’s political future  Appendix 1: Interview guide  Appendix 2: Guide to the study’s interview participants

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Charles Leddy-Owen is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Portsmouth, UK.


‘Much recent scholarship has attempted to explain the rise of populist and nativist politics through one of two dominant paradigms: the cultural backlash thesis and the resistance to the neo-liberal globalization argument… As Leddy-Owen convincingly shows in this insightful book such macro-structural explanations cannot capture the complexities and differences of micro-worlds … In theoretical terms [Nationalism, Inequality and England’s Political Predicament] challenges both the political science perspectives on populism and the sociological literature on racism as neither of these two strands of scholarship engage adequately with the vast literature on nationalism … This is a very valuable book that successfully combines a coherent theoretical argument with in-depth empirical analysis. Leddy-Owen shows convincingly that any attempt to explain "England’s political predicament" has to move away from the narrow focus on identities and grievances and centre the attention towards the role of the state in creating, maintaining and reproducing nationalist discourses. Furthermore, this contribution clearly indicates that nationalism is not only a powerful but also a highly malleable political force that is framed and utilized differently by different political agents and different social strata and as such cannot be captured fully or adequately through the traditional quantitative surveys.' - Siniša Maleševic, University College Dublin, Ireland; Author of Grounded Nationalisms.

'I found the book very well-grounded in relevant and rich scholarship… [It] is a compelling study which brings additional insights into the ways nation and nationalism are mobilised to make sense of the ‘we’ of politics. Leddy-Owen’s final comments point to a world where nations no longer would be the dominant enframing political principle and a cosmopolitan commitment to universalist principles of equality prevail.' - Marco Antonsich, Loughborough University, UK

‘The book focuses on one (Brexit voting) city of England, Portsmouth, studied with a combination of semi-structured interviews and ethnographic fieldwork. Leddy-Owen provides an incredibly rich account of the city and of the participants’ views … The analysis makes it clear that people’s views on immigration, the nation and borders are so messy that they require that researchers go out and actually talk to people, rather than relying solely on survey data. It is hard to see how several of the interesting conclusions of the book could have been reached by quantitative methods. This is the case in particular for Leddy-Owen’s discussion about the ‘rationality’ and ‘self-interest’ underlying both the nationalism of the ‘overlooked’ and the cosmopolitanism of the ‘affluent’, with the implication that the latter is therefore no more amenable to solidarity than the former … The question [raised in the conclusion of] what kind of principles … should underlie … a sense of political community at the state level, and how these would be distinguished from nationalist principles of compatriot partiality, not least in people’s minds … is perhaps one of the most important questions of today… The new interview data and analysis provided by Leddy-Owen’s book will be incredibly useful to others trying to find an answer.’ - Clara Sandelind, University of Manchester, UK

Nationalism, Inequality and England's Political Predicament is a book about why people are still drawn to nationalism and how might we redirect these energies towards non-nationalist and perhaps even cosmopolitan orientations … It is Leddy-Owen’s turn to a race-conscious analysis that remains particularly generative. It is here that his effort also acts as a testament to the virtues of scholarship when sincere and searching. Namely, by turning to a ‘race and racism’ canon, Leddy-Owen is able to press the electoral behavior debates that I reckon he is otherwise most comfortable with away from the willful naivetés otherwise detrimental to it … We see in his portrait of Portsmouth that nationalist sensibilities – as construed through various idioms right, liberal and left – co-exist with ‘nation-scepticism’, often in the same person, let alone the same city … Leddy-Owen provides … an account of place that resists simplistic dichotomies, complicating at every turn the reach of nationalism whilst never denying its purchase. This is also a treatment of class that does not shirk uncomfortable realities but nor does it leave them untroubled. In sum, his book is a reckoning with a provincial place that still allows for the alternatives to nationalism to be credibly scoped; a reminder that whilst nationalism enjoys an enduring reach, it is not a given and we should not be resigned to it.’ - Sivamohan Valluvan, University of Warwick, UK; author of The Clamour of Nationalism.