Popular Understandings of Politics in Britain, 1937-2015


Anti-Politics, or Popular Understandings of Politics?

By UoSAnti-Politics |

This week, we have been considering how we might address the challenge of combining a deductive focus on anti-politics with an inductive focus on popular understandings of politics.

On the one hand, the project seeks to explain the rise of anti-politics and political disengagement that appears to have taken place in Britain in recent decades. We would like to explore whether partisan dealignment, globalisation, consumerisation, the modernisation of political campaigning, or other factors have shaped public disengagement from formal politics. We would like to explore the various dimensions of anti-politics including various sentiments and behaviours, and the relationships between them.

On the other hand, the project is also concerned with establishing the range of popular understandings of politics amongst British citizens since the 1930s. We would like to identify the various repertoires citizens have adopted to ordinarily talk about politics and evaluate how these might vary over time and in different social circumstances.

Are these concerns mutually exclusive or will it be possible to adopt an approach that combines both? The challenge of the project is not to let one concern drown out the other. Anti-politics appears to be an important phenomenon of the contemporary period and we believe that our project can help to describe it and explain its rise. At the same time, we need to make sure that we don’t prejudge what popular attitudes to politics have been in Britain over the last 80 years. We need to listen to voices in the Mass Observation archive and allow them to speak not only ‘for’ but also ‘back to’ contemporary categories of political science, including anti-politics.


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