The research context: Brexit and covid-19
Brexit and the covid-19 pandemic are simultaneously occurring events informed by media and government narratives that will have a cumulative and transformative impact on British society. That the country is being asked to manage both at the same time is exposing fundamental inequalities across identities of class, race, ethnicity, nationality, migration status and generation. The dominant media narrative of Brexit was centred on social polarisation evidenced by the supposed differences in identities and experiences of inequality of Leavers and Remainers. On the other hand, covid-19 has been uncritically described in some aspects of the media discourse as a disease that is “bringing society together”, does not “discriminate”, and is a social “leveller.” Yet, these different ways in which the socio-economic impacts of covid-19 and Brexit have been framed by some politicians and the media are likely to both echo and strongly contrast with the reality of everyday experiences. It is the interactions between everyday experiences of inequalities and media narratives of Brexit and covid-19 that we seek to explore in this research. In so doing, this research sets out to better understand how the covid-19 crisis has deepened the inequalities across identities exposed in Brexit Britain and whether new inequalities are emerging.
- To answer research questions on the articulation of identities and inequalities in the contrasting contexts of the “social polarisation” that characterized Brexit Britain and the “coming together” of the nation that is said to have followed the initial onset of covid-19, along with their long-term effects, with a particular focus on the entwined inequalities of class, race, ethnicity, nationality, migration status, age, generation and geography.
- To examine the extent to which narratives of social polarisation and inequality are reflected and reinforced by the media and everyday engagements with them, how these might change in the context of further waves of covid-19; and the evolving place of Brexit as we face the ongoing issue of leaving the EU.
- To highlight the immediate and longer-term inequalities produced by covid-19 and Brexit to relevant policy makers, the media and the public to find strategies to mitigate against these inequalities.
What we will do in our research
To fulfil these aims, we will conduct new research on individual experiences and media narratives that builds on our existing research project that explores questions of identity, belonging and the role of the media in Brexit Britain. By building on our research on Brexit, we can provide a unique longitudinal understanding of the social and political impact of covid-19 in Brexit Britain.
In this study, we will integrate in-depth interviews conducted across England with panel survey data and analysis of national and local (to the fieldsites) media data. The research will begin in July 2020 with the first wave of a panel survey and media content analysis, with a second wave of the panel survey taking place in October 2020 when it is expected that further restrictions will have been lifted, and a third wave in January 2021. The survey will provide the context for, and coincide with, the beginning of six months of ethnographic research.
The fieldwork will consist of interviews with participants we previously interviewed as part of our Brexit project. This will include in-depth discussions with participants in the South West, North East (Newcastle and Northumberland) and East Midlands (Leicester and Boston). We seek an understanding of participants’ ongoing experiences of the pandemic, allowing them to reflect back on their experiences, which will provide a fuller perspective, grounded in daily life and complementing the survey research and media analysis.
We will also collaborate with an artist to co-produce an art installation that will convey the experiences, emotions and inequalities of covid-19 and Brexit that we identify.