Fetishising Sovereignty in the Remain and Leave campaigns

Denny Pencheva , Kostas Maronitis

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper focuses on the relationship between sovereignty, immigration and neoliberalism as illustrated in the debate around Britain’s EU membership. By approaching the narratives of the Remain and Leave campaigns via the work of Foucault, Butler, and Brown we argue that state sovereignty has been framed through the prism of ontological anxiety and redefines its subject: homo oeconomicus. Homo oeconomicus is a function of neoliberalism and the anxieties and interdependencies that it produces. Therefore, much like sovereignty, which entails both inclusion and exclusion, this subject exists simultaneously as embedded and dependent upon the market, and as disembedded from it.
The paper applies framing as a method for the analysis of sovereignty in the Brexit debate. The Remain campaign colloquially referred to as ‘project fear’ relied on framing Brexit as a leap into the unknown, unleashing economic stagnation and political turmoil. The Leave campaign operationalised anxiety, which proved to be the more successful strategy. The key difference between fear and anxiety is that the former is dependent upon its object, whereas the latter is freed from it. Thus, anxiety frames the neoliberal sovereign subject in relation to what is meaningful to it.
The paper argues that the framing and subsequent fetishisation of state sovereignty produces a new understanding of homo oeconomicus. Both campaigns demonstrate that homo oeconomicus is no longer a subject attached to power but a subject living in precarity epitomised by anxieties of mass immigration. Thus anxiety operationalises sovereignty as well as mobilising immigration and facilitating its racialisation.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 8 Sept 2017
EventThird International Cultural Political Economy Conference : Taking Issue In/With Cultural Political Economy: Neoliberalism, Democracy and Crises - Lancaster University , Lancaster , United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Sept 20178 Sept 2017

Academic conference

Academic conferenceThird International Cultural Political Economy Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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