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Personal feelings in political life
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts
in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain
Abstract only
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts

Following the EU referendum, scholars of British politics sought to understand the place of emotion in both the vote and the polarisation that followed. Yet, they were less reflective about their role in contributing to some of the narratives that underlay these divisions. In this concluding chapter, we reflect on the role of political studies itself within the politics of feeling surrounding Brexit. We summarise the argument of the book and suggest that, in order to really understand the way that Brexit was experienced as an emotional event, we need to look beyond aggregations of voters into homogeneous Leave and Remain camps and instead look at the way that feelings – and public narratives about those feelings – were understood by individuals.

in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain
Abstract only
Using an ‘archive of feeling’ to understand Brexit Britain
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts

The EU referendum occasioned a great deal of public, and academic, debate about the proper place of feelings in political life. These broadly divided into two contradictory positions: that feelings should be suppressed in favour of reason and that they should be listened to as authentic reflections of our inner lives. In this introductory chapter, we briefly set these debates in historical context, showing how feelings have previously been conceptualised within British political traditions. We then introduce the Mass Observation Project and explain its particular value in recording (and shaping) the interaction between feeling and thinking in the ways citizens understand their experiences of politics. It allows us to get beyond these normative public narratives and understand how citizens of all political persuasions weighed, deployed, disavowed, and rejected feelings as a source of moral and political legitimacy. The final part of the chapter outlines the structure and the arguments of the book, and its contribution to studying both the specific narratives about the emotional politics of Brexit and the politics of feeling more broadly.

in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts

In this chapter, we examine the stereotypes that emerged as people made sense of the referendum result, and the new political divisions emerging in its aftermath. Although, as we have seen, many Mass Observers turned to their feelings as a way of transcending the grubby world of politics and media bias, they were often deeply suspicious of the emotions of others, who they felt should have been more ‘rational’. This tendency was reinforced by the widespread tropes of the rational Remainer and the passionate Brexiteer. Although they did not reflect how feelings were actually deployed (in fact, both sides emphasised their own rationality and condemned their opponents’ feelings as unruly and disruptive to political norms), we show the power of these stereotypes in shaping citizens’ understandings of their own feelings and of those around them. This reinforced two not-quite-contradictory ideas: first, that feelings were a dangerous and base impulse, and second, that the only ‘true’ emotional response was that associated with a deeply racialised, classed, and anglicised construction of ‘ordinariness’ and of ‘the mood of the country’.

in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain
Abstract only
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts

The period of the referendum campaign and its aftermath was experienced as a peculiarly emotional time, in which feelings carried both greater power and greater danger than usual. The referendum was also narrated as the result of a ‘public mood’ with particular political characteristics. These understandings of public moods provided a discursive frame through which individuals interpreted their own experiences of Brexit. The Mass Observation accounts make clear that this was an emotionally intense and destabilising period for many citizens; they also indicate a wide spectrum of feelings, from ‘elation’ to ‘distress’, as well as more ambivalent experiences of revulsion, boredom, and fatigue. We reflect on how voters made sense of these affective experiences, interpreting them not only through their pre-existing political frameworks but also through dominant cultural discourses about emotion and mental health, most notably anxiety. We also show that moods were messy and unpredictable. They could take individuals by surprise, re-shaping their political choices and identities. This challenges the idea that political positions on the referendum were fixed and irreconcilable.

in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain

During the Brexit debates, questions about the nation’s political future were continually framed in terms of feelings. The referendum was seen as a conflict between reason and resentment, fear and hope, heads and hearts. The eventual Leave vote was widely interpreted (by both its supporters and detractors) as the triumph of passion over rationality. Its aftermath was marked by intense concern about the feelings generated on both sides and their consequences for British political culture. The capacity of this question to tear through personal relations and to provoke emotional encounters between strangers became as much a part of the debate on Brexit as the political and economic issues it raised. These stories about feelings had political consequences. They shaped the way people experienced their own feelings and those of others. In this book, we listen to the stories of ‘ordinary’ people writing about their experiences of Brexit for the Mass Observation Project. We look at how they used public narratives about the role of feelings in political life to make sense of the referendum and its aftermath. But we also show how they resisted and re-made these stories as they interpreted their own feelings and the feelings they encountered (and imagined) in other people.

Abstract only
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts

One of the distinguishing features of discourse on Brexit – from the mass media to Mass Observation – is the extent to which it was seen to pervade everyday life, impacting relationships with friends, family members, neighbours, and colleagues. In this chapter, we follow the emotions of Brexit into these intimate realms, examining the ways in which citizens navigated tensions and divisions in their daily lives. Although the EU referendum was presented as a chance for public debate, it actually closed it down. Citizens felt drained by the heightened public and private discourse, and frightened by the emotions it had unleashed, in themselves and in others. And while popular culture recommended therapeutic talk and prioritised bridging divides, most citizens avoided this, even at the cost of personal relationships. Some also began to feel they had a moral obligation to cut ties with those whose bigotry they had previously been able to tolerate.

in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain
Political feelings in personal life
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts
in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain
Abstract only
Jonathan Moss
,
Emily Robinson
, and
Jake Watts

Since the EU referendum, much attention has focused on the role of feelings in voting decisions. This chapter picks up this theme but, rather than treating distinct emotions as a straightforward causal factor (e.g. anger led to Leave votes), we look at the ways that people consciously drew on their feelings as a form of evidence, alongside (and intertwined with) reason. It is notable that, while the EU referendum was frequently framed as a choice between ‘heads’ and ‘hearts’ in media discourse, Mass Observers rarely articulated such a distinction. Instead, they turned to an altogether messier organ: the gut. In the context of an unhelpful and confusing campaign, ‘gut feelings’ about Brexit were represented as an apolitical, morally neutral source of knowledge, which depended upon the seemingly natural authority of feeling and the authenticity of individual experience. We show that this turn to ‘feelings-evidence’ has a history rooted in the increasing legitimacy of ‘ordinariness’ as a form of political expertise in post-war Britain but also influenced by long-standing Conservative, and newer neoliberal, privileging of individual experience over collective ideology.

in The politics of feeling in Brexit Britain
When Tunisian bloggers took on Internet censorship
Romain Lecomte

An old, balding civil servant, bespectacled, frustrated, devoid of charisma and with no social life, often equipped with a pair of scissors: this was how many imagined ‘Ammar’, a character invented by Tunisian Internet users to personify Internet censorship in the era of Ben Ali. Ammar was symbolic of the link forged on the Tunisian web throughout the 2000s between leisure and politics: as well as being entertaining and an inexhaustible source of jokes, he was also an expression of discontent with regard to the repeated attacks on freedom of the Tunisian Internet, the freedom to express an opinion about public affairs, but also simply how to spend one’s free time. Operation Nhar 3la 3ammar (‘Bad Day for Ammar’) was launched in May 2010 by Tunisian bloggers in order to organise demonstrations abroad and especially in Tunis against Internet censorship in Tunisia and is particularly interesting in this respect. Barely six months before the revolution, it was led by actors who, although they did not cling to the portrayal of ‘symbols’ and ‘leaders’ in the media, would play an important role during the revolutionary uprising, by updating their (cyber)activist networks and their methods of protesting. This was a new project in the history of Tunisian cyberactivism, taking a ‘virtual’ protest out into the streets, which illustrated two types of connection between leisure and politics that have existed throughout the history of Tunisian Internet usage.

in Arab youths