Political Reactionism as Affective Practice: UKIP Supporters and Non-Voters in Pre-Brexit England

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Political Reactionism as Affective Practice: UKIP Supporters and Non-Voters in Pre-Brexit England


  • Gavin Brent Sullivan International Psychoanalytic University Berlin, Germany / Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, UK


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Abstract:  United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) supporters and non-voters in England participate respectively in forms of engaged and disengaged anti-political activity, but the role of individual, group-based, and collective emotions is still unclear. Drawing upon recent analyses of the complex emotional dynamics (e.g., ressentiment) underpinning the growth of right-wing populist political movements and support for parties such as UKIP, this analysis explores the affective features of reactionary political stances. The framework of affective practices is used to show how resentful affects are created, facilitated, and transformed in sharing or suppressing populist political views and practices; that is, populism is evident not only in the prevalence and influence of illiberal and anti-elite discourses but also should be explored as it is embodied and enacted in “past focused” and “change resistant” everyday actions and in relation to opportunities that “sediment” affect-laden political positions and identities. Reflexive thematic analysis of data from qualitative interviews with UKIP voters and non-voters (who both supported leaving the EU) in 2015 after the UK election but before the EU referendum vote showed that many participants: 1) shared “condensed” complaints about politics and enacted resentment towards politicians who did not listen to them, 2) oriented towards shameful and purportedly shameless racism about migrants, and 3) appeared to struggle with shame and humiliation attributed to the EU in a complex combination of transvaluation of the UK and freedom of movement, a nostalgic need for restoration of national pride, and endorsement of leaving the EU as a form of “change backwards.”

Keywords:  affective practice; Brexit; EU referendum; non-voters; populism; national pride; reactionism; ressentiment; shame; UKIP

Published:   27 August 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v9i3.4261


© Gavin Brent Sullivan. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.