Lacanian Review Online – Discourses that Kill- “Hostile Environment”

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When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender
This I could not do

(Leonard Cohen, The Partisan)
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17th January 2019

Hostile Environment
Roger Litten

Among the factors that contributed to the result of the Brexit referendum, I wish to highlight two in particular – questions of economic policy and questions of immigration policy.[1]

The articulation between these two elements continues to be one of the main sticking points in the post-Brexit negotiations, where we see the British government struggling to separate out the principle of the free movement of goods from that of the free movement of people.

The economic strand of Brexit could be traced to the financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing government bail-out of the banking institutions. The wholesale socialization of loss following decades of privatization of profit constitutes a fairly blatant rupture of whatever social contract is supposed to be intrinsic to capitalism as a political model.

One legacy of the financial crisis has been the doctrine of austerity, aptly described as a political choice dressed up as economic necessity. Austerity also entails a displacement between the financial and the social spheres, as we see the cost of the banking bail-out being recuperated in cuts to public services, education and health.

It just happens that the decade of austerity following the financial crisis has coincided with the rise to prominence of the discourse around immigration. Whatever other factors might be involved in the rise of this discourse, we have certainly seen fears about immigration cultivated in political circles as a convenient means of deflection from the logic of austerity.

This discourse seeks to link the concrete effects of austerity on the quality of life to the rise of immigration. Blaming immigrants for the scarcity of resources, the familiar refrain that they have stolen our jobs and are given preferential access to housing and healthcare, undoubtedly has a certain plausibility at the level of daily experience. What we would need to examine in more detail, however, is the point of intersection where a political discourse of false attribution meets up with subjective effects of willing assent, in some kind of ‘want to believe’ among the population at large.

It is here that a psychoanalytic reading of the subjective roots of xenophobia and racism would help us to grasp that these subjective effects are themselves indexed on a discourse of false attribution. […]


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