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SPSK3101: What are the main research questions or puzzles that Clarke and Newman grapple with in this article : Politics & Society: Themes and Topics Research Paper, NUI, Ireland

University National University of Ireland (NUI)
Subject SPSK3101 Politics & Society: Themes and Topics

Topic 1: Brexit and Populism

Discussion Questions

1. What are the main research questions or puzzles that Clarke and Newman
grapple with in this article?

2. According to the authors, what forms does “nationalism” take in the context
of Brexit?

3. How do ideas about experts and expertise play out in the debates about

4. How do the authors describe and explain changes in class politics in the years preceding Brexit?

5. The authors propose a framework of thinking “conjecturally” to explain the
phenomenon of Brexit. What do they mean by this?

People in this country have had enough of experts’: Brexit and the paradoxes of populism


In June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, creating massive political turmoil and controversy. Our aim in this paper is to contribute to a discussion about how to analyze such critical moments in policy and politics. Rather than searching for one ‘real’ cause (whether the micro-politics of the Conservative Party or popular disaffection from neo-liberalism), we offer a form of conjunctural analysis that highlights issues of multiplicity and heterogeneity.

We sketch this approach and then explore two puzzles that have particular pertinence for Critical Policy Studies. One is the puzzle of populism: how new imaginings and representations of the ‘British people’ were constructed. The second is the puzzle of expertise; how antipathy to ‘expert’ knowledge was shaped to challenge British and European ‘elites’. Conjunctural analysis, we argue, offers a vital means of engaging with such puzzles, and of grasping the heterogeneous and contradictory forces, tendencies, and pressures that enabled Brexit.

In this paper we want to propose a method of working across what appear to be multiple causes and different levels of explanation by using ‘conjunctural analysis’, an approach that locates Brexit as a critical moment in a wider conjuncture.

In doing so we draw on the work of the late Stuart Hall, specifically the landmark studies of crises in British politics and culture which he led, including the rise of Thatcherism as a mode of ‘authoritarian populism’ (Hall et al. 2013) and the ruptures produced by the financial crisis of 2008 (Hall, Massey and Rustin 2013).

Our engagement with Brexit, then, is rooted in cultural studies, in which questions of conjuncture, articulation, and struggles over meaning have always been central (Clarke 2010, 2014; Newman 2012a, 2014). The article is then structured around three puzzles arising from within this approach. The first concerns how to think about the multiplicity of forces, pressures, and contradictions that provided the context – the conditions – for Brexit.

A second puzzle concerns the emergent conceptions of nation and people articulated in the moment of Brexit, including the persistently difficult elisions between ‘Britain’ (the dominant linguistic device in campaigns and analyses) and ‘England’, as well as an insurgent nationalist image of a ‘sovereign people’. Third, we turn to the puzzle that provoked the title of this paper – the problem of expertise. What forms of expertise are at stake, and what questions are raised about power, legitimacy, and governance in the populist challenge to expertise

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