Project overview

Northern Exposure: Race, Nation and Disaffection in “Ordinary” Towns and Cities after Brexit, is a major social science project which will examine the implications of Brexit on race relations, new migrations and Northerners’ sense of place and belonging.

The North of England has played a central role in debates about the causes and consequences of the Brexit referendum, especially in the widespread perception of a divided Britain. The North of England is viewed as a place of simmering racism and xenophobia: pitting White British, older British minority groups, and newer incomers such as asylum seekers or East European workers against each other in deprived and depressed post-industrial locations.

Northern Exposure interrogates these perceptions of the North, while broaching sensitive questions of everyday nationalism, race and racism in largely understudied and marginalised places. The project fills out and enriches the argument that the disaffection expressed by voters, or in tensions seen in particular communities, is linked to the long term post-industrial transformation of the region.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the project will run from February 2019 to May 2022 and will see a team investigate exactly how Brexit impacts upon local communities in the North, amidst growing inequalities and post-industrial decline.


The project will offer a detailed statistical profile of 16 “ordinary” large towns and small cities in the North of England, going back in time. We will then engage in intensive ethnographic work on four localities running from the North West, through West Yorkshire, to the North East-which capture key elements of the post-industrial North in their histories, changing identities, and contemporary struggles: Preston, Halifax, Wakefield, and Middlesbrough.

Talking with local stakeholders, community organisations, and social work practitioners, the project will build up a clear vision of the everyday concerns that damage positive visions of diversity, community and inclusion. This will lead on to interviews with older long term residents from different origins and backgrounds, gathering personal oral histories and views about the urban, social and political change around them.

Policy makers in the region feel that conventional multiculturalism and anti-racism are not working, yet that a narrow focus on socio-economic solutions will not solve the riddle of “inclusive growth” or address emergent ethnic conflicts. Our research will transmit voices not often heard into local policy formulation. It will feedback residents’ concerns into neighbourhood policing. With our partners, we seek tools for local intervention, identifying mechanisms that lead to community breakdown or community cohesion.

Our work will also lead to a comprehensive study of the state of Northern England in all its diversity as it comes to terms with Brexit. Alongside other academic outputs, we are filming our research and the people we meet, resulting in short online films which portray residents and their lives today, along with a full length documentary for general release.

See our UKRI project page for further information.