Photography by Crispin Hughes (above)
This month our digital theme is migrations. Here Image-Makers in Residence, Nando Sigona & Marie Godin, introduce “In the shadow of Brexit: EU families and Eurochildren in Brexiting Britain”. Follow us on Instagram at ‘thesociologicalreview’ for all the images.
“In the shadow of Brexit” is a participatory photo and audio project, part of the EU families and Eurochildren in Brexiting Britain research project (ES/R001510/1), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in The UK in a Changing Europe programme. The study investigates how families with EU27 parents are managing the change and uncertainty brought by the EU referendum of June 2016, and the kind of strategies they have put in place to mitigate the actual and expected impact of Brexit on their lives.
EU citizens in Britain were mostly voiceless in the Brexit referendum, while migration and migrants from the EU were firmly placed at the centre of the political and media debate. With “In the shadow of Brexit: Portraits of EU families in London”, the aim is to offer a more nuanced, and plural representation of the EU population in London. Today, London is home to over 1.1m EU citizens, including a large number of families and children. In fact, London is a ‘growing’ EU capital, if we consider that children of EU heritage continues to be born despite Brexit. Until Brexit, this was by far the largest conglomerate of non-native EU citizens in the EU. Besides the size, as we have discussed elsewhere, London’s EU population is also noticeable for its diversity, including citizens of every EU member states (EU27) and in every sector of the labour market – from museum curators to aristocrats, from professors to hospital nurses, from stay-at-home parents to baristas, from LGTBQ+ activists to retired grandparents – and from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. London’s superdiversity is not only a socio demographic reality, but it is also an enabler of new encounters and relationships which may be harder to establish and sustain elsewhere. Motivations for migration to the UK among EU citizens vary, covering the full range of the migration spectrum, from education to labour, for sentimental and family reasons to exile. For some, discrimination and racism were among the main reasons to leave their country of birth or residence, with the UK, and in particular London, perceived as the ‘land of opportunities’ and where ‘diversity is a fact of life’. For non-white EU citizens, London’s superdiversity offered opportunities to express and embody more nuanced identity projects and articulate in the process a more inclusive, diverse and cosmopolitan pan-European identity. For many, Brexit has been experienced as a rupture, unsettling their migration projects and more broadly their sense of belonging.
The participatory photographic dispositive that we set up made visible some of the fractures produced by the Brexit referendum within this population. For many of the participants to our study, the Brexit referendum forced them to rethink not only their migration projects, but the very idea of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’. By creating these audio-visual portraits of the lives of a group of EU citizens in London we want to create a space for them to articulate these dilemmas, but we were keen to highlight how these are often non individual ruminations, rather inter- and intra- generational conversations that involve different members of the family. Many interviewees shared with us their frustration for being invisible, caricaturised or misrepresented in the pre and post- EU Referendum debate. This participatory photo project aims, on a small scale, to address this perception offering a space for participants to articulate their voice and agency.
Each photo session involves an initial chat with our researcher in which all members of the family join in to tell their Brexit story, followed by the actual portrait session led by one of our professional photographers (Crispin Hughes and Francesca Moore). The photos draw inspiration from the conversation and are loosely constructed around three different types of group portraits: a formal one, inspired by classic Victorian family photographs; a portrait representing each family member with a meaningful object of their own choice; and a third, more informal, one capturing a scene of family life in their living room. Overall, the juxtaposition of images and voices evoke some of the intricacies and dilemmas of what is to belong as an EU family living in London in the post-Brexit era. Through visual as well as audio narratives of both children and parents this participatory photo project sheds some light on the reshaping of the ‘us versus them’ narrative and offers insights into the emplaced and embodied politics of belonging surrounding the exit of the UK from the EU.
Nando Sigona, Professor of International Migration and Forced Displacement and Director of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS), University of Birmingham (@nandosigona | nandosigona.info)
Marie Godin, British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford and Research Associate at IRiS, University of Birmingham