BOTH SIDES OF THE LINE Stuart Hall and ‘New Ethnicities, then and now

In June  1992 Stuart Hall came to the University of East London to give the inaugural lecture for the Centre for New Ethnicities Research  to which I had just been appointed director. I had been working for a number of years at the Institute of Education developing an approach to  anti -racist work with young people  based on  ethnographic research  in schools, playgrounds, housing estates and neighbourhoods  in East London. The focus, then  as now,  was on trying to understand the impact of   economic change  on the livelihoods, life styles,  and life stories of  the people most directly affected and their families over a long period of time.  East London, and especially the    Isle of Dogs where much of this  work took place  was  then a front line of racial tension  between a long established  working class community traumatised by the closure of the docks, and  more recently arrived Bangladeshi and Vietnamese/Chinese  communities[i].

Stuart had a long standing attachment to the University of East London, whose main campus was then in Barking, an area that  was undergoing rapid transformation from a predominantly white working class area, dominated by Fords Dagenham to a much more diverse  population,  a change  reflected in the composition of the UEL student body.  Barking  was itself to become a racial front line and  his  lecture, in which he developed his distinctive model of ethnicity,  had a very definite local resonance[ii]. On this memorial  occasion, when we are considering his intellectual and political legacy, it may be worth briefly  revisiting that time and place,  reflecting    what was achieved, where we failed,   and  what bearing  that whole initiative to re-think race and class  has on the political circumstances in which we currently find ourselves[iii].

 Race and the Other Scene        

From an educational standpoint the CNER initiative was   an attempt  to uncouple legitimate  grievances related to the process of   de-industrialisation ( viz the closure of the docks)  from the discourse of their racialization; in particular  we wanted to devise a method  to re-connect the existential predicaments of young people  arising from the implosion of  customary   transitions from school to a framework of understanding that could address  the more hidden wounds of class[iv].  This  intervention was both required and  hampered by the failure of  the multi-cultural curriculum to say much  positive about the heritage of working class struggle, unless it featured visible ethnic minorities,      and also by a moral, symbolic and doctrinaire pedagogy of anti-racism which tended to press the mute button on the expression of grievances voiced by  white  working class youth for fear that they  might be construed as giving support to racist beliefs [v].   The result was to  even further alienate   young people who already had little enough stake in the    educational  system or faith in its capacity to deliver on its meritocratic promises, and whose own collapsing narrative of aspiration in any case  bypassed it[vi].
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Against these tunnel visions, our work drew on concepts and methods from Cultural studies, using photography, art work, creative writing and visual ethnography to provide a space of representation in which  young people’s   anxieties  related to   rapid demographic and socio-economic change  could be freely   ventilated, examined, worked through and as far as possible de-racialised[vii].

I quickly came to the conclusion through this early work that to get to grips with  racialized sentiment and belief  it was necessary to take the notion of unconscious racism much more literally and seriously. It was not just about the unintended consequence of institutional processes of discrimination, or forms of prejudice of which  the perpetrators   were unaware or in denial, it was unconscious in the  Freudian sense- a discourse of the Other within the self that  involved  a perverse way of holding   bodies in  mind. From a Lacanian  perspective  racial phantasies are linked to  what Freud called the death drive. The racialised body is always an  ancestral body,  a  dead body  whose characteristics are supposedly inherited  identically from generation to generation  and  so remains  sealed up  in itself  and outside  history and language. This is the body held in mind evoked by   a  code  of inheritance that transmits   a carbon copy of an original (a race) which does not exist.   Racial  genealogies however dynamic  they look always imagine a  state of   social stasis  as their support. Sexual relations between  ‘ races’  are  so forbidden and so  thrilling  because they dare to  bring to  life  and give a libidinal charge  to what is  otherwise  a  dead relation between phantom bodies.    It is not only because of the unspeakable genocidal crimes  committed in its name, but  because it represents  unconsciously a remainder, and  a reminder,  of  this  death drive  that  racism  is such a terrifying force, at once so fascinating and  so hard  to combat, the ultimate point of  fixation and a floating signifier.

According to this view the  endless repetitions of   racist  discourse,  the reiterative slogans and stereotypes,  are an attempt to  master or contain the diffuse  anxiety aroused by this Other Scene ; yet the anxiety  continually leaks out as a principle of impending catastrophe represented by  the always unforeseen, (but already long anticipated) irruption of the uncanny, the foreign or the alien. Immigrants and  refugees, are rendered  visible within this frame  only to be   made to embody  concretely    this  otherwise unspeakable  threat. Once caught within this racialized gaze, target populations are treated as   representing  everything that has to be  got rid of from the body politic in order  to maintain its equilibrium. The diffuse sense of dread evoked by the death drive  is thereby transmuted into a named object  of fear and loathing, whose  exclusion – and at the limit extermination-  alone promises  deliverance[viii].

However interesting  conceptually, the real test  of this model is how  far it helps illuminate the role of  phantasy in everyday   racist practices, whether this take the form of  name calling, graffiti  or bullying in the playground, racial violence on the streets, or indirect forms of race discrimination in the  educational and employment system. My application of this model emphasised the  re-structuring of primary  processes of  narcissistic identification centred of the problematics of self –origination:  the nation, race, ethnicity, class, gender  aboriginally  giving birth to itself  and reproducing itself from itself identically from generation to generation as if were an endogamous  tribe [ix]. Within this symbolic order any form of  social, cultural or biological mixing becomes  taboo, and is considered a betrayal of filiation or  a dilution of heritage. To have the ‘wrong’ body, live on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks, to support the ‘wrong’ football team, like the ‘wrong’ kind of music, wear the ‘wrong’ clothes  becomes a mark of pariah status, of belonging to a ‘race apart’.  To call this a ‘narcissism of minor difference’ as  Freud did in an attempt to cut anti-Semitism down to size through irony  should not be to underestimate its power to infiltrate popular culture and become common sense. One implication of this model  is that the primary  process  of the racist imaginary operates relatively independently of its forms of  institutionalisation, it persists beneath  threshold of public perception even, and especially when  these power structures are modified, for example through the introduction of  anti-discrimination legislation.

Tricks of the Trade

Stuart Hall was very supportive of this perspective, not least because of the influence of Fanon on his own thinking about race  and his close personal connection  with the world of psychoanalysis. In his  inaugural lecture he  argued that   ethnicity is not necessarily   ethnocentric, it does not have to be about autochthony, aboriginality, or auto-poesis,  it is not inevitably racially fixated, or essentialised. [x]He detected the emergence of a new and more hopeful form of ethnicity which was de-centred, fluid, situational, variable in its articulation, hybridised, allo-poetic,  and undergoing constant transformation. In other words post-modern. It became  our research task to put this construct  under empirical pressure, to investigate what the normative concept of ‘New Ethnicities’ corresponded to in the cultural practices, identity work, and coming of age stories, of young people growing up in a part of London which  for over two centuries has been home to immigrants and refugees  from all over the world as well as to a large English working class population drawn from different parts of the  UK and Ireland.
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One of our first projects was  called Tricks of the Trade, and involved  producing educational materials  for 10- 14 year old children for the British Film Institute[xi].   We chose the theme of the trickster,  inspired by  Henry Louis Gates ‘The Signifying Monkey’ – his account of the role of  trickster figures in Black diasporic culture, especially in  its  street vernaculars of sounding, signifying and talking the  dozens, the rhetorical foundations of rap. Our idea was to twin Ananse,  the black spiderman  whose exploits in using his wits to turn the tables on the powers-that-be was a staple ingredient of Caribbean folklore, with his White American counterpart, the hero of the All American Dream  as portrayed by Marvel Comics. Through this collision between hegemonic and subaltern cultures our aim was to explore issues of power, knowledge, and the  colonial legacy n an imaginative way by getting the children to create stories  about what happens when  Ananse meets Spiderwoman.  The story was adapted to local vernaculars, and for example, the Cockney was refigured as a  mixed heritage shape shifter, part con artist, part ducker and diver, outwitting the Law to make a living in the East End’s hidden economy.

So on the occasion of Stuart’s s visit I seized the opportunity to interview him about Ananse.   He reminisced about his  childhood growing up in Jamaica and the Ananse stories he heard told. What I like about Ananse, he told me,  is that he knew how to  live on both sides of the line.  In other words  he knew how to fool the powerful into thinking he was on their side, he could be trusted as ‘their man’ to do their bidding and then used that  privileged position  to undermine their  authority and get his own way. You can see why children love these stories!

Living on both sides of the line is what  Stuart Hall did most of his life. He was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, the founder of a new academic discipline, an internationally known  cultural commentator,  and, as such, a fully paid up member of the intellectual elite as currently castigated by the Daily Mail and the populist alt-right . But he was also an anti-establishment figure, a man of the New Left, a political activist, an organic black intellectual and part of  to a dissident academy populated by   artists and writers who held the world according to Mrs Thatcher in contempt. He turned up for the CNER lecture wearing a sober and  extremely well cut suit  as befitted the formality of the occasion  but he also  looked somewhat  uncomfortable in it, as if he longed to take off the jacket,  tear off the tie  and let the dance of his mind become a more directly embodied performance. Talking on his feet, combining  Benjaminesque  subtle dialectic with Brechtian  crude thought was, after all, his special forte.

Living on both sides of the line is also of course, what new ethnicities are supposed to be all about: the capacity to switch codes, negotiate multiple identities, feel at home in difference, and most definitely not feel    torn between two cultures  or conflicting value systems. Now one of the problems with this model  of identity work is that in some hands it tends to set up a binary  opposition in styles of identity work  between healthy happy hybridity at one normative pole and pathological purity at the other in a way which, it could be argued, fails to grasp  the lived complexities of race, class and gender in contemporary Britain.

Secondly it conjures up the exemplary figure of a nomadic subject  in a way which conflates the privileged cosmopolitan life style of   multi-cultural omnivores and globe trotters    with  the denizens of the gig economy, who from economic necessity have to engage in the just- in -time production of the self,  and also with the situation of  diasporic  peoples who have been forcibly  uprooted  from their homelands as a result of famine, war or persecution. The precarious circumstances of such groups simply do not  admit the luxury  of living  both sides of line, where the line in question is that drawn between survival or extinction.

Finding the Way Home

In the eight years of its existence CNER  carried out a wide range of  pedagogic /cultural action linked to its ethnographic research programme.[xii]  In our biggest project, Finding the Way Home,   we carried out a comparative study of young people’s sense of place, identity and belonging, related to issues of gender, ethnicity and class, in two ex- dockland areas of London (Deptford and the Isle of Dogs )  and two equally contrasting districts of Hamburg.   We used a gamut of methods, from picture preference tests of youth fashions, to guided fantasy exercises, photo-story making, video walkabouts, and narrative interviews, to create a multi-layered representation of  these young peoples’ coming of age stories and how these were influenced by  different local  histories and geographies of immigration and racism in each city [xiii].
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I cannot possibly detail the findings here, but suffice to say that we found  the crucial indicator for the style of identity work being pursued  was the amount and type of cultural and social capital at these young peoples’  disposal,  and  this  in turn was primarily a function of familial or communal  not educational resources.  The key distinction here was first defined by Robert Putnam in his theory of social capital, but can also be usefully  applied to cultural, linguistic and biopolitical capital[xiv]. Access to bridging capital provides young people with the confidence  to  experiment with  life style choices, to try out different gender roles, to reach out to  make friendships and other partnerships with young people from very different social  backgrounds based on shared cultural affinities, to   rehearse imaginatively  a new class and  ethnic identity, and to  generally embrace  the  stylistic mash ups  and  social conviviality offered by  urban multi-culture[xv]. In other words to live both sides of the line.  Bridging capital gave these  young people the opportunity and disposition to see the world, if not as their oyster, then as a safe space for their encounter with the Other, albeit with a few dangerous or exciting ‘hot spots’.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that those young people  with less going for them in terms of social and cultural assets needed  to create defensible spaces  of identity work in order to maintain some sense of ontological security; these spaces were often strongly  territorialised, and anchored to fixed positions of gender, ethnicity and class, relations of filiation  which is some cases were also racialised.  From the perspective of what Putnam calls bonding capital  the world is seen  a dangerous place, offering little prospect on the future, but with a few bolt holes, where the Other could be kept safely  at bay.   Bonders were more likely to draw the line under their own feet,  to over-react to any  kind of change and to feel most threatened by the arrival on the doorstep  of  new immigrants. We found that in both cities  it was the young people who self  identified as being working class and   who had the least social and cultural capital who were the most likely to  adopt  the position of  defended  subjects and  to bond only with those seen to be like them, in terms of  real or fictive kinship  rather than elective affinity.  However we also found that the balance between ethnic bonding and bridging varied according to local circumstances, and that  many  young people toggled between  positions according to the social context in which they found themselves. At one moment they would cheerfully be part of a diverse multitude, at another they reverted to their cultural tribe. There were also some who shifted decisively from one position to the other in the course of our research, as a result of contingent  experiences and interventions in their lives.  We concluded  that ‘old’ ethnicities had not withered away but in some contexts had been re-invigorated, partly as a defensive response to loss, while new ethnicities were largely confined to those who could take advantage of the creative opportunities they offered for self advancement, especially in the creative industries and knowledge economy.

Hani’s Story

These different  trajectories of identification, from building niches of roots radicalism based on race or religion,  to   exploring alternative  sub-cultural routes to a  mash  up of social identity,  could not be read off  or predicted simply from initial  class of ethnic categorisations.  Family and peer   cultures were  decisive intervening variables. Just how complex and over- determined these processes of  identity work  were can be illustrated by the story of one of the children we got to know very well  as he struggles to finding his way to somewhere he could call ‘ Home’. Hani was a 12 year old boy on the cusp of adolescence. He came to our attention  because his teachers were in a quandary  about how to deal with his often aggressive racial remarks. We began to work intensively with him, exploring his fears and phantasies in relation to his peers, but also encouraging him to make a portrait of his family life, bringing in photographs and objects from home to discuss and getting  him  to draw or paint figures or scenes, whether from his dreams, his day dreams, or his everyday life, that he found  disturbing.
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Hani’s  statements were  dominated by  lurid images of sexual and racial threat. He didn’t like girls  ‘because they had claws’ and he thought black girls ‘smelled bad  and would claw your eyes out if you looked at them’. He admired  and obsessively drew  musclemen, and wanted to be one when he grew up so he could ‘punch the girls claws off’. He  firmly believed in white superiority, and said he wanted ‘ to marry a sexy white girl  who would look after him’. Although at one level he was articulating a generalised peer culture of racism and sexism in this school, and was a correspondingly popular figure, especially  amongst the white boys,  the fluency and vehemence  of his statements  also   marked him out from the others.These ideas or phantasies seemed absolutely central to his self image; he had an ontological stake in racism and sexism in a way that some of the others who held similar if less extreme views, did not.

The first significant factor about Hani was that he was of dual nationality. His father was Egyptian, but had left the family to return to  Cairo when Hani  was quite little. On his not infrequent flying visits, there were often rows,with Hani taking his mother’s side. Many of his drawings depicted these fights through various avatars. But once his dad had left, Hani told us he longed for his return. He made up a series of tall stories  about his father’s adventures abroad which he illustrated for us. His favourite one   was that  his father was charged with an important diplomatic mission for the Egyptian government which meant that he travelled around a lot visiting various trouble spots in the Middle East.This fable both served as a cover story to explain his father’s absence, expressed a desire about the  mediating role which he  secretly  wished his father to play in the family conflict and functioned as an element within Hani’s family romance, allowing him to identify positively with his Egyptian origins, and indeed to construct a whole imaginary genealogy for himself  centred on a   highly romanticised  version of his paternal roots: he came from a family of rich merchants who lived in a palace which he would one day inherit. In this way, we surmised,  he was able to    defend himself against the hatred he must have felt for a father who in reality had abandoned him.

At the same time, in the context of  domestic disputes, Hani made it clear that he  identified strongly with his mother,and with being, like her,  both white and working class. But at another level, he also constructed for himself an imaginary father, a father whose Arabic name he proudly bore, and to whose linguistic and cultural inheritance he was actively apprenticing himself by attending a ‘supplementary’ school on Saturdays where he learnt Arabic. It appears that he kept these two ‘sides’ to his personality quite distinct. Yet such splitting, however necessary a defence, was not entirely successful in managing the tensions of his dual heritage.

According to the teacher who knew the family well, at home Hani was very much a mummy’s boys. Such a contrast from his school   persona, she said. Yet  perhaps his close identification with his mother’s place  was the reason why he needed to adopt such an exaggeratedly  macho stance and violently  reject anything associated with a  subordinate quasi-feminine position in his dealings with  male elders or peers. But this solution only seems to have led to a return of the repressed in the shape of the ‘phallic mother’ whose ‘claws’ he will have to punch off if he is ever marry ‘a sexy white girl who will look after him’.

But what function did his racism play in this ?  It  seems to have enabled  him to identify with his mother in racial terms, i.e. as white. Hani’s own skin colour was closer to his mother’s than his fathers in any case, but the identification was primarily symbolic. His favourite photograph of her showed her as a curiously asexual ‘English Rose’ posed against the artificial studio backdrop of a typically pastoral  landscape. In terms of the psychoanalytic model,  her white skin stood for a racial body immaculately conceived, ‘ its ‘inherent’ superiority came precisely from the fact that it did not depend on its sexuality, or gendered coupling   to reproduce its ‘perfect features’. In that sense it was no longer simply the maternal body from which he had been born, and against which he had to establish his difference and distance. It was an ancestral anglo- saxon body he could possess as an absolute principle of self identity.And through that mediation possess his mother while keeping  his father  at a safe but exotic distance. For Hani to lay claim to such a body was perhaps the surest way he knew to maintain an  omnipotent image of his own physicality in a way which did not put his masculinity in doubt. But what about his paternity ?

At one level Hani’s beliefs in white English superiority seem to have enabled him to gain a sense of revenge on a father who, in his mother’s eyes and perhaps even the son’s, was a monster who had abandoned them both in favour of  another country and, by association another family and culture. Hani drew a  picture of a Frankenstein like figure which bore a distinct resemblance to a photograph of his father, which he said he hated. In this way  he could ‘whitewash ‘ his mother and denigrate his dad. But at another level it was necessary for him  to hold on to a personal myth of origins which allowed him to feel proud of  his Egyptian as well as his English  roots, in other words to maintain an integral sense of dual heritage.  He could not allow his racist body imagery  to ‘blacken’ his father as well. In fact what he seems to have done is to have constructed a  double standard in which the light skinned Arab is colour coded white, and opposed to the ‘black’ Arab – the dirty street Arab, the denigrated Arab of popular stereotype. This split perception  may well have been influenced by the colour hierarchy within Egyptian society itself wherethe lighter your skin the higher your status. Thus his ideal father is whitened to  invest him with a general social superiority. But in making such distinctions Hani’s  personal  agenda  becomes overlaid with a  wider, more public, set  of references. For the way in which ‘Egypt’ has been constructed in the discourse of popular  Orientalism  and what it has come to represent within common sense ethnologies of prejudice mirrors  many of the ambiguities felt by this Anglo-Egyptian boy.

Hani’s family romance,  centred on a ‘white Arab’ father, allows him to  despise and dissociate himself from ‘black’ people. In the same way a  European intelligentsia  invented themselves as the standard bearers of a superior cultural heritage by excising Egyptian  ( and hence African) influences from  Classical  Greece. This operation  helped create the conditions for the kind of popular  Egyptology relayed by Indiana Jones movies  which were then featuring strongly as source material for playground games in his school. This cultural backdrop    presented Hani with an even more compelling motive for maintaining the split between an idealised image of his ‘fatherland’ and a derogatory view of blacks. This issue came to a head with the advent of the Gulf War, when the playground of this school echoed with jokes  about Saddam, and chasing games took the form of crusades against Islam. Now, for once, the boot was literally  on the other foot. His racist taunts about jungle bunnies were capped with jokes about Saddam Hussein’s toilet habits directed at him. The teachers did not know how to deal with the situation. Their anti-racist policy prescribed zero tolerance, but however effective that was in shutting up racism in the classroom, it was difficult to police the playground, let alone  the neighbourhood,. At the same their committed multi-culturalism meant that they wanted to encourage Hani to celebrate his multiple heritage, and especially his Egyptian roots,  yet  as a Catholic school, they were somewhat less enthusiastic about his embracing Islam.

Partly as a result of these difficulties, his mother decided to remove him from the school  and send him to an  Islamic faith school instead. Hani himself was enthusiastic about the proposed move. But there was much more to it than swapping one faith school for another. His  father, who in reality was a minor official in the Egyptian civil service, had returned  over the Easter holiday, having become involved with the Shazilya sect, a Sufi brotherhood which had embraced a version of Islamic fundamentalism. There had been a family reconciliation and his mother had decided to convert to Islam. Symbolically the path was now clear for Hani to adopt Arabic as his mother tongue,   as  the voice of an ideal self which  pointed him  towards an ego ideal embodied in the patriarchal structure of Islamic culture. Consequently his   body image  no longer had to bear the full weight of primary narcissism. It could be deracialised. He started to talk about ‘everyone being the same colour under the skin’, whilst his new sense of belonging to the imagined community of  Islamic faith   gave him an oceanic feeling of identification with this cause. As he put it ’ I feel that now we are all part of the same thing, Allah has  brought us all together again, its like coming home.’  However this new balance between ethnic bridging and bonding was fragile and came at a price. He started to develop a line in anti-Semitic rhetoric, no doubt partly influenced by his father  who held to the view that the Gulf War was the result of an international Zionist Conspiracy. In other words one kind of racist discourse had been replaced by  another. This  is symptomatic of the fact that the actual tensions between the two mythologies of ethnic origin he had constructed in order to have the best of both worlds as a   white Arab, had not actually been resolved by adopting a purified religious identity in place of a hybrid national one. Rather in the discourse  of the Other Within, the ‘dirty street Arab’ had given way to the ‘dirty Jew’. What had been cancelled by this move is the dual voice which characterises the diaspora experience, where  the language of origins always reverberates with  echoes of other times and places,  evoking  separation and loss even as it affirms the continuity of historical traditions. All this is denied in Hani’s enthusiastic embrace of Islam in which the father’s name and the mother tongue  are magically fused  in a single figure of quasi Oedipal authority. But that may not yet be the end of the story. For what is repressed has a habit of returning.

New Times but not those  ‘New Times’

Hani’s  story  evokes  a scenario where the Other scenes of race, gender and class  intersect to dramatic and even tragic effect at both a personal and political level.   Stuart Hall would have recognised this process, for sure, but he would also, I think, have admitted that  it  is now  time to revise some of the terms in which we understand what is at stake in such stories in the light of the present conjuncture. In 1992 we never thought that the anti-globalisation movement would come from the far Right, or that the radicalisation of youth   would come to mean young Muslims in Britain running away from home to join  ISIS. We are in a different conjuncture in which soft internal borders  are being over- written  by hard external ones, creating new topographies   of exclusion, cutting  across familiar lines of ideological division while at the same time re-territorialising old ones. Within the global city, we are seeing the social cleansing of many working class neighbourhoods and the forced migration/dispersal  of long established communities to the outer suburbs. Nimbyism used to be reserved for affluent middle class residents who did not want their privileged amenities  threated by public housing or infrastructure. Now it is a working class  complaint  against accelerated gentrification, including ethnic gentrification. While refugees and economic migrants  from around the world    sets their sights on Britain as a promised land of opportunity  for many of its current inhabitants it has become a not very green and singularly unpleasant land of broken promises and declining life chances.
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Contemporary right wing populism is a bonders charter;    it summons into being a virtuous, homogeneous,  aboriginal People  polarised against a cosmopolitan elite who have imported  alien  cultural goods into the country.   In the referendum  campaign, UKIP portrayed   the remain camp, who are de facto   bridgers  , with their mantra ‘stronger together’, as the  new ’ enemy within’.  The already fading internationalism of the labour movement was consigned to the dustbins of history.  The counter demand to ‘take back control’, with its echo of working class syndicalism and popular sovereignty, reverberated both with the widespread desire for protection   against   the precarities of the  labour and housing  market, and  the equally strong desire to  rebuild a moral economy of community around less permissive styles of identity work,  so that  growing up working class can once again become an apprenticeship to a viable inheritance of skill whose acquisition can function as stable markers of maturity[xvi].

In addressing, rather than dismissing  these  existential  concerns we have to ensure that  that those who  once upon a time were regarded by the Left, and who often regarded themselves, as the backbone of the nation, the true creators of its wealth and prosperity,  are not now demonised, by that same Left, as a race apart, mired in false consciousness, as unfit for the purposes of international  socialism as they are for global capitalism-  just because they voted for Brexit.

It is useful, at this point to revisit Stuart Hall’s theses on authoritarian populism, precisely in order to grasp  why we are NOT living through   a rebirth of Thatcherism with Brexit and  the emergence of the alt-right.[xvii]  To start with, we have to distinguish, perhaps more  clearly  than was possible  at the time,    between the libertarian and authoritarian instances of Thatcherite populism in order to grasp their dialectical tension.[xviii]  Thatcherism’s libertarian moment involved the de-regulation of the labour and housing markets and the mobilisation of the People, as consumers,  against  the ‘nanny ‘  socialist state, whose protective interventions  were characterised as a bureaucratic interference into  personal freedoms. In its authoritarian moment, Thatcherism intervened to re-regulate  the moral economy of community : individualistic norms of reciprocity operating  within a  competitive meritocratic order were to be re-embedded within  ‘Victorian family values’  associated with a ‘spirit of enterprise’  and hard work;  at the same time  the coercive and ideological apparatus of the State  was mobilised against the People, as represented now by the organised working class whose own moral economy, centred on a  culture of militancy and mutual aid  was first to be  hollowed out and then outlawed or dismantled.

The Left counter-punched against this double whammy :  the  key  demand   was to  re-regulate the market economy through  increased State intervention and control ( the authoritarian moment) whilst deregulating the moral economy through fluid   forms of identity politics in support of women’s, LGTB and minority ethnic rights ( libertarian moment).  In retrospect we can see that while each platform  was valid on its own terms, it was not joined up into a counter-hegemonic project and only served  deepen the divisions between   the labour movement and the  Left,  the socially conservative working classes   and radicalised sections of the new middle class.

The fall out from the splitting apart  of  long established configurations of State, market and civil society   has created our present  crisis of political representation; it  made possible  the emergence of   a grass roots authoritarianism based around a  national-popular  identity politics  counter-posed to  both the libertarian Right ( free market economy)  and the libertarian  Left (  free moral economy  )  now bracketed together   as  joint supporters of   the free movement of labour.  This formation  found its perfect  rallying point in the EU referendum which opened up a new narrative space for a  triumphalist, post-imperial version of the Island Story,  so brilliantly rehearsed by Danny Boyle in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, and which could now be claimed  by the Brexiteers as their own, proving that Britain could stand alone and still  put on a show that wowed the world.

It is the Labour Party which has been  left behind by these developments, not the working class. The  ‘post-modernisation’ of the party, its transition from a  machine for mass producing   one- size- fits- all- policies aimed at a large  working class  base  to the just -in -time marketing  of  an array of  policy ‘brands’ with  niche appeal   was never fully achieved[xix]. The project was fatally compromised by the  widely  perceived abandonment of its de-industrialised heartlands during the Blairite Ascendency. In the process the culture of municipal socialism which once upon a time promoted so  many agencies of bridging capital   and sustained an  inclusive,  civic nationalism of the labourhood    has been displaced by narrower,  ethnicised and territorialised,  prides of  place, disconnected from, if not outright hostile to,  mainstream politics.  As a result  the party is now faced   with the impossible choice of dissolving itself into an extra-parliamentary opposition  whose street cred is anchored to social movements and campaigns with limited demographic – and hence electoral- appeal or  becoming a small   subculture within a largely discredited  metropolitan  political class, a tail that wags a phantom dog.

The liberal  commentariat  have responded to the   Brexit vote with  a more or less adroit  mixture of   breast beating, finger pointing,  tub thumping , head scratching and shoulder shrugging. But for lefties of my generation no amount of mea culpas, oy veys or hail Gramsci’s is likely to do the trick. Clearly the great moving right show has taken us into terra incognita opened up by major shifts in the tectonic plates of class identity[xx] . We need to find new concepts and new strategies to  meet that challenge.  Otherwise, as the man  himself once put it,  we are in for a bumpy ride.

[i] See Geoff Dench and Kate Gavron The New East End:kinship,race and conflict Profile 2006  and Phil  Cohen On the Wrong Side of the Track pp 36 – 136 Lawrence and Wishart 2013

[ii]   See  Marc Isaacs film All White in Barking Icarus Films (2007)

[iii]  The present text is a revised version of a talk to a seminar organised at the University of East London on ‘Migration, Politics and Representation’ in honour of the establishment of a PhD studentship by the Stuart Hall Foundation.

[iv] See  Richard Sennett and Jonathon Cobb  The  Hidden injuries of Class  Faber 1972 ; On the racialization of working class identities in Britain see  Phil Cohen  ‘Labouring Under Whiteness’ in Displacing Whiteness (edited Ruth Frankenberg ) Duke University Press 1997

[v] See Roger Hewitt White Backlash and the politics of multiculturalism Cambridge University Press 2005  and . Also Phil Cohen   ‘Its Racism What Dunnit’- Hidden Narratives  in Theories of Racism’  in   Race, Culture and Difference  (ed James Donald & Ali  Rattansi)  Sage 1992

[vi] See Gillian Evans Educational failure and white working class children Palgrave 2007

[vii] For an account  of this work  see Monstrous Images, Perverse Reasons: Cultural Studies in AntiRacist Education  Centre for Multicultural Education ULIE Working Paper 11 1991


[ix] This approach  is discussed in  ‘Psychoanalysis and  Racism ‘  in John  Solomos and David Goldberg (eds) Blackwell Companion to Race Oxford  University Press 2002 and ‘Homing Devices – On racism and nationalism in everyday life ‘   in  Resituating Identity  (eds Valerie Amit-Talai and Caroline  Knowles)  Broadview Press  Toronto 1996

[x] See Stuart Hall ‘New Ethnicities’  in David Morley and Kuan Chen (eds) Critical Dial;ogues in Cultural Studies  Routledge 1996.Also John Solomos ‘Stuart Hall :articulations of race, class and ethnicity’ in  Ethnic and Racial Studies Vol 37 Issue 10 2014

[xi]  See Tricks of the Trade -Art Teaching and Multicultural Education  in Teaching Popular Culture  (edited   David  Buckingham) Taylor and  Francis 1997 ;  see also Phil  Cohen and Linda Haddock  Anansi meets Spiderwoman  BFI Publications 1992. Tricks of the Trade, the film in which the  interview with Stuart Hall is featured  can be downloaded from, as can a companion piece, Playgrounds of Prejudice.

[xii] This work is collected in Phil Cohen (ed)  New Ethnicities,Old Racisms Zed Books 1999. See also Bill Schwarz (ed) Front Lines, Back Yards New Formations Lawrence and Wishart 1998

[xiii] See Nora Rathzel (ed) Finding the Way Home-  Young  People’s Narratives of  gender, class, ethnicity and place in Hamburg and London   V&R Unipress Gottingen 2006

[xiv] Robert Putnam Bowling Alone . Putnam’s model of social capital   refers to different  principles  of social cohesion  operating through networks, whether embedded   strongly (bonders)  or weakly (bridgers)  ; this model refers back to Durkeim’s classic  distinction between mechanical and organic solidarity.  Basil Bernstein’s  work on the distribution of linguistic capital into  restricted and elaborated codes also draws on Durkheim’s  model . See Class,Codes and Control Vol 1 Routledge 1977. In The World, the Text and the Critic (Harvard 1983)  Edward Said reworked  these binaries  in his  model of cultural capital, making the distinction between  bio-political filiation based on real or fictive kinship and elective affiliations  based on ideological formation.  A similar model is applied  to a theory of community stake holding vis a vis the 2012 Olympics in On the Wrong Side of the Track pp 204-240.

[xv] See Les Back  New Ethnicities and urban culture :racism and multi-culture in young lives  UCL Press 1996 . Also  John Eade et al   New ethnicities among British Bangladeshi and mixed-heritage youth   Report to the Leverhulme Trust 2006.

[xvi] See Jennifer M Silva  Coming up Short :working class adulthood in an age of uncertainty Oxford University press 2016

[xvii] Stuart Hall ‘The Great Moving Right Show’ Marxism Today 1979

[xviii]  For a critique of Stuart Hall’s Gramscian reading see Bob Jessop et al ‘Farewell to Thatcherism? Neo-Liberalism vs New Times’, New Left Review, 179,  1990

[xix] See Anthony Barnett Blimey its Brexit!  Open Democracy 2016

[xx] See  Justin Gest  The New Minority :white working class politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality Oxford University Press 2016