In 2020 the convergence of Brexit, COVID-19 and the ‘migrant crisis’ put Kent in the headlines as never before: images of refugees on beaches, lorries queued on the county’s motorways and the white cliffs of Dover crumbling into the sea were all used to support claims that severing ties with the EU was the best – or worst – thing the UK had ever done. In this coastal driftwork, Phil Hubbard considers the past, present and future of this corner of England, alighting on the key sites which symbolise the changing relationship between the UK and its continental neighbours. Moving from the geopolitics of the Channel Tunnel to the cultivation of oysters at Whitstable, from Derek Jarman’s celebrated garden at Dungeness to the art-fuelled gentrification of Margate, Borderland bridges geography, history and cultural studies to show how ideas of national identity and belonging take shape at the coast. In doing so, the author argues that the ongoing crises of global displacement, climate change and ecological disaster require an expansive geographical imagination, with the current fixation on the sovereignty of our national borders appearing increasingly futile at a time of rapid global change.
This chapter considers the role of the Kent coast in the recent iconography of nationalism, suggesting that it has been caught up in debates around Brexit by virtue of symbolising the idea of the ‘island-nation’. Focusing on the cliffs of Dover, the chapter sets out a methodology for exploring the geographies of the borderscape which addresses such questions of symbolism and identity, yet which is based on a personal encounter with the landscape. The chapter draws on ‘new nature writing’, psychogeography and cultural geography to outline a method that offers a critical perspective on nationalism and identity by rejecting insular views of nature, society and politics.
This chapter explores the north Kentish coast from the Thames estuary to Whitstable. It suggests that in contrast to other towns on this part of the coastline, Whitstable is a ‘seaside’ town that has become densely connected to flows of tourism and consumption centred on London. Arguing that this is fuelling rapid gentrification, this chapter considers the way that the town’s traditional oyster industry – and fishing more widely – has been caught up in debates about the identity of the town. The chapter argues that recent opposition to the cultivation of ‘non-native’ oysters off the town’s beach can only be understood with reference to these wider debates, and that questions of what or who belongs in the town often entwine with ideas of national identity. Invoking the idea of ‘eco-nationalism’ the chapter argues that questions of bordering often extend to encompass environmental issues, suggesting that distinctions between native and non-native need to be problematised in an era of unprecedented global environmental change.
This chapter explores the identity of Margate, alighting on sights that reveal its former role as a centre of mass tourism but that now appear ‘out of time’. Noting that images of disinvestment and abandonment have consolidated the representation of Margate as something of a ‘dumping ground’ for the socially vulnerable and those on welfare, it examines the way that recent gentrification and reinvestment has exposed social divisions of class in the town, which have often been articulated through the politics of migration and nationalism. Here, it suggests that depictions of Margate, and the wider Isle of Thanet, as a stronghold of pro-Brexit voters is overly simplistic, but notes the continual circulation of ideas of Englishness and whiteness in the town. The chapter concludes by exploring the significance of the public art in the town, which rejects exclusionary nationalism in favour of a more cosmopolitan sense of place.
This chapter considers way that wartime consciousness is reproduced at the Kent coast by focusing on the coastal headland between Dover and Folkestone, atop the white cliffs. It reveals a landscape of contemporary monuments to wartime heroism as well as the remnants of defensive infrastructures whose meaning and symbolism is more obscure. These include World War II sound mirrors designed to provide early warning of aerial threat, as well as the bunkers and tunnels that formed the command centre for the evacuation of Dunkirk. Arguing that these landscapes work, in different ways, to encourage the active remembrance of Britain’s ‘finest hour’ among local populations, the chapter reflects on the near-coercive commemoration of military endeavour that has been significant in the reassertion of ‘island thinking’ in Brexit Britain.
This chapter considers the way the borderscape of Kent changed with the construction of the Channel Tunnel and associated infrastructures of connection, including motorway improvements and the High Speed One rail link. Starting at the Channel Tunnel terminal at Cheriton (Folkestone), the chapter moves along the M20/High Speed One corridor noting how initial local opposition to the construction works demonstrated ambivalence to the European project of spatial integration. The latter sections of the chapter focus on the integration of Ashford within the European space of flows. Here, the chapter contrasts the promise of speed and mobility in the EU era with the regular queues of freight lorries on local roads, and the construction of lorry parks in 2020 designed to cope with the anticipated volume of customs checks associated with the post-Brexit era. The chapter concludes by suggesting that local ambivalence about the European project of integration is registered in the figure of the white horse on the hillside above Folkestone, a statement of local and national distinctiveness constructed at the millennium that echoes more ancient traditions of scouring the landscape.
This chapter considers the traces of refugee arrival and integration at the Kent coast, focused on Hythe and Folkestone. It contrasts the accommodation given to Vietnamese ‘boat people’ in the 1970s and 1980s at Moyle Tower, Hythe, with the incarceration of more recent asylum seekers and undocumented migrants at Napier Barracks, Folkestone. Considering the ethics and politics of hospitality, the chapter suggests that the ongoing attempts to discourage and prevent migrant crossings of the Channel are indicative of the rise of the ‘island thinking’ that has accompanied Brexit, fuelled by negative representations of refugees as economic migrants. The chapter concludes by noting the opposition to these dominant representations which is articulated via local public art, suggesting that a careful reading of the local landscape reveals the positive contribution that successive waves of migrants have made to the life of towns, which have been indelibly shaped by arrivals and departures.
This chapter considers the low-lying coast between Dymchurch and Dungeness, the south-eastern tip of Kent and England. It focuses on coastal anxieties relating to sea level change and flood inundation, showing how this anxiety can reinforce ideas of the coast as a protective margin. Drawing on ideas of hauntology, the chapter considers the relicts of past landscapes destroyed by coastal erosion and flood, and argues that they also augur the future. Noting that global environmental change represents an existential threat to this corner of England, the chapter proceeds to contrast the forms of exclusionary nationalism often associated with the coast with the more open and inclusive politics embodied in Derek Jarman’s garden at Dungeness, in the shadow of the nuclear power station. Offering a queer critique of nationalism, Jarman’s garden is presented as encapsulating a more progressive sense of place, with its embrace of the alien representing an alternative to the insularity ushered in by Brexit.
This brief afterword considers the conjunction of the ‘migrant crisis’, Brexit negotiations and COVID-19 at the Kent coast. Noting that COVID-19 ushered in new forms of exclusionary nationalism and populism, this chapter suggests that the events of the winter of 2020–21 further positioned the Kent coast as a bulwark against threats to the ‘island-nation’. However, it notes that some of the initial explanations for the emergence of the alpha (Kent) COVID-19 variant, such as the influence of refugees, were misplaced, and that the fast transmission of the new variant is best understood in relation to the socially divided nature of the Kent coast.