Hating immigration and loving immigrants: Nationalism, electoral politics, and the post-industrial white working-class in Britain

  • Andrew Dawson
Keywords: white working-class, post-industrial, elections, nationalism, immigration, anthropology of Britain


Recent years have witnessed the rise of neo-nationalist sentiments, especially for immigration controls amongst the post-industrial white working-class in Britain. However, this trend visibly faltered in 2017 as unexpectedly large numbers of the post-industrial white working-class voted against political parties with implicitly neo-nationalist agendas. On the basis of ethnographic research conducted in post-industrial northeast England, I explain this unexpected turn of events as driven, in part, by a backlash against the implicit xenophobia in the agendas of neo-nationalist political organisations. I argue that the backlash is grounded in widespread perceptions of immigrants embodying locally valorised forms of sociality and personhood that are intimately linked to experiences of work and industrial work in particular. Simultaneously however, I argue that the very same members of the post-industrial white working-class often remain opposed to immigration because it enables access to an international labour force that obviates the need for the development of local human capital and, thereby, the possibility of many of ‘their own’ people having access to the means by which they can develop these same valorised types of sociality and personhood. In this way, commonly the post-industrial white working-class is opposed to immigration whilst, however, being positively predisposed towards immigrants.