Post by Mary Bosworth, Director of Border Criminologies. Follow Mary on Twitter @MFBosworth

Along with everyone I know, I was appalled to learn on June 24 that a small majority in the UK voted to leave the EU.  I had arrived home late the night before, from the North South Criminology Conference in Maynooth, Ireland, where I was speaking about the implications of mass mobility and its control for our understanding of punishment.  As is often the case at such events, despite my own rather pessimistic outlook, I had been buoyed by conversations with other scholars, particularly with students, a number of whom were doing important work on the intersections of race and migration in Ireland.  Everyone was a bit nervous about the possibility of Brexit, but we were hopeful.

Those hopes have now been dashed, and we have entered this disturbing period of uncertainty. I find myself fixed to Twitter, where various legal alternatives to the decimation of the European project are being mooted, alongside a growing number of frightening examples of explicit racism and xenophobia.  It seems clear that many in the Leave camp made promises they had no intention of keeping. Others, some suggest, may not have really believed they would succeed; or had, for some reason, underestimated the catastrophic effect of their campaign, despite all the warnings.

Although I would say my abiding emotion remains one of anxiety, I am becoming angrier about the absence of a viable progressive political response. While the pundits debate the impact of class divisions and education on the electorate, all I can see is that people voted to keep out and expel immigrants.  Hatred, fear, or simply mistrust of foreigners crosses socio-economic boundaries. Those of us working on border control have known that for some time. As we also know, those views and emotions about ‘foreigners’ all too easily attach themselves to other, cognate groups, specifically racial and ethnic minorities. Racism and xenophobia are close bedfellows.

While we do not yet know exactly what form of legal or economic deals will be made about Britain’s place in the world, images are flooding in of marches by the far right and of racist signs being put up around the country. People are overhearing hatred on the streets, in the buses as those who ‘look’ or ‘sound’ foreign, or whose skin is not white, are told to ‘go home’.

As many others, more expert than I, have already observed, the foundations for these developments are wide and deep.  While Farage is an easy (and deserving) target of critique, the Tory government and Labour have contributed directly to this outcome as well.  From the ‘Go Home’ buses, to the Guardian columnists who assert the need to end Freedom of movement, anti-immigration sentiment has been legitimized and amplified across the political spectrum.

These developments are not limited to the UK.  In the US, Trump continues to espouse plans to build a wall with Mexico and ban Muslims from the country altogether. Australia is heading to the polls next week, and looks set to reelect the Liberal coalition government who routinely treat refugees as less than human, placing them offshore in appalling conditions that violate international human rights law.  Meanwhile, the Far Right in Europe is growing bold.

Under these circumstances, it is more crucial than ever to forge national and international academic and political coalitions, not just for better understanding, but to bring about change.  While transformation must, in the end, occur in law and politics, it begins in discourse and debate.  Academics are good at both of those things.  So are our students, and our colleagues in NGOs, charities, and in government.

As the themed series we are running at present show, people are working hard.  Brexit reminds us just how important that work is and why we need more of it.  It has also demonstrated how crucial it is to make it accessible outside the academy. Please use Border Criminologies as a resource. We welcome suggestions for collaborative research and debate.  While our funds are limited, I can apply for more.  Please also consider publishing in other places: The Conversation, Media Diversified, the newspaper, your own blog.

It can be difficult, especially for colleagues without secure posts, to publish in places that are not academic journals, for fear of the REF.  Those of us balancing precarious research access may face other challenges.  I know that many, like myself, are already exhausted by and drained from this work. Migration control is already a challenging field emotionally, practically and intellectually. Brexit feels very personal.  We need to acknowledge those feelings and anxieties, if we are to find a way through them. 

It is worth remembering at moments like this that universities have always been, at heart, institutions of collaborative work and critique, as embodied in its most fundamental relationship between teachers and students. Academic critique has also never been limited to the ‘ivory tower’, no matter what those who despise expertise and accuse scholars of elitism might claim.  People may well not read journal articles outside the academy, but students go out into the world and forge it anew all the time. All of us will work with colleagues outside the sector in our research and its dissemination.  Many of us publish outside the sector as well.

In all these examples we have the foundations for responding to the upsurge in anti-immigrant and racist sentiment: more cooperation and debate; more communication within and beyond the university sector, and more coalition work with others who share our concerns, wherever they are to be found. From all of us here at Border Criminologies, I hope we can work together, to set out the costs to us all of a society based on exclusion and the benefits of one based on inclusion.   

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Bosworth, M. (2016) Border Criminologies Post-Brexit: Working Together for Change. Available at: (Accessed [date]).