“Brexit has released a shockwave as people recognise that the political really is the personal”- Guardian. (01/06/2016)
The Brexit referendum on june 23rd 2016 was arguably one of the most emotive political events to have occurred in the UK in recent decades. It has been described as representing a “moment of existential instability” (Coleman 2016 p.43) and as being “dominated…by hysteria, hatred, savage emotions, and the sinister monster of exclusionary, ethnic nationalism” (Foster 2016 p.105)
I am interested in the explosion of affect surrounding this event, creating a divergence from low political engagement to a position in which the referendum was heatedly discussed among people in all spheres of life, “trendy hairdressers, the bank foyer, the supermarket checkout” (Moore 2016 p.28)
I would like to examine the role played by the media, who it has been argued has never before “fed the public’s hopes, fears and prejudices to this extent” (Rowinski 2016 p.52). And to examine the rhetoric employed, in particular by the leave campaign of “take back control” in order to understand how it has come to be that Brexit has represented a complete “personal ontological crisis, amid ..growing social, political and economic crisis. (Roberts 2016 p.56)”
Broader Context of social and cultural change:
The decade since the financial crash of 2007/8 has been marked by record increases in the prescription of anti depressants (Lennon-Patience 2013) feelings of “helplessness, guilt and shame” (Illouz 2008) and the “very real experiences of diminishing social support.. anxiety and uncertainty” (Lennon-Patience 2017 p.17).
Under successive conservative governments & austerity there are arguably two key intertwined social forces that have played a huge role in this period, neoliberalism & therapeutic culture (Illouz 2008)
Neoliberalism represents the meeting of market and government, and promotes a view of human nature as individual and self interested (Layton 2015). Within this acceptance of mutual interdependence is lessened as the split between “strivers” and “skivers” is reduced to individual responsibility (Lennon-Patiences 2013)
Therapy culture within this has become both the symptom and the cure (Yates 2011) and has been appropriated heavily by neoliberal initiatives such as Cameron’s ‘measuring wellbeing’ which equated well being with choice, and the values of neoliberalism (Lennon-Patience 2013). We have also seen a mass increase in ‘self help’ books and programs where the locus of responsibility for suffering within market society is centred upon the individual alone (Illouz 2008)
The ideas of Foucoult (Burchell and Foucault, M. 1991, Foucault and Senellart 2008), Ferudi (2004) and Lasch (1991) provide insight as to how the self is institutionalised within these discourses and to how neoliberalism and therapeutic culture foster ‘narcissistic forms of relating’ (Layton 2015 p165) however alone they cannot provide a full account for the actual lived investments into, and experiences within these structures, and psychic and social defences that arise.
Relevant psychoanalytic theories.
Bion (1959, 1961,1962) makes a positive contribution to a psychosocial examination by expanding upon Klein’s (1946,1957) concepts of Projective Identification & Splitting by introducing the concept of the ‘container-contained’ to explain how these work on a societal scale. The container functions to take in anxieties that arise & return them in a manageable form. Containment failures result in a distortion of projections and an escalation of anxiety. Klein& Bion’s ideas then enable an examination of the relationships between social forces such as neoliberalism and containing structures such as the media (quote)
Winnicot’s concept of ‘transitional objects’ (1953, 1969) along with Kohut’s Cultural SelfObjects (1971) also make a positive contribution to a deeper understanding of the ‘significance of the unconscious in shaping our relationship to a mediatised world’ (Bainbridge 2011 p34). According to Kohut healthy development centres around SelfObject needs of mirroring and idealising. With empathetic attunement these transform narcissism into healthy forms of esteem and confidence. Failures to meet SelfObject needs however results in the development of defenses to reduce negative feelings about the self such as ” lack of empathy and aggression against others (Gammon 2017), panic and anxiety and the development of a false self (Winnicott). We can then use Winnicott & Kohut’s ideas to explore whether the media & political leaders as Cultural SelfObjects meet our needs of empathetic and attuned mirroring.