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Afterlives of legitimacy: a political ethnography of two post-industrial towns in England

Hilhorst, Sacha (2024) Afterlives of legitimacy: a political ethnography of two post-industrial towns in England. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004611


This dissertation asks whether there is a crisis of legitimacy in England’s post-industrial towns. Quantitative literatures suggest former mining and manufacturing towns now register high levels of political mistrust and disengagement – patterns which cannot be explained through economics or demographics alone. On the basis of a political ethnography of the towns of Corby and Mansfield, this thesis argues that it has become common for residents of both towns to understand politics primarily through the frame of corruption. The corruption frame is intertwined with a set of assumptions about agency, morality, care and the future, profoundly shaping dispositions towards politics. It constitutes a challenge to the legitimacy of the political system, while also fostering acquiescence in the face of overwhelmingly powerful forces. The thesis considers several common explanations for a withdrawal of consent. Far from being ‘forgotten’ or ‘left behind’, both case study areas were actively remade after they lost their core industries. These processes changed the dispositions of political representatives and local powerbrokers. At the heart of the political shift lies the connection between a political economy and a symbolic economy. Their position of logistical power had once afforded workers in both towns “tokens of care” in the form of clubs, leisure centres and medical facilities. Oppositions between workers, employers and the state were euphemised into a set of moral relations. As the political economy of both areas has shifted, the basis for this symbolic economy has eroded. Moralised understandings of politics have reversed into their mirror image: a sense of ubiquitous corruption. This analysis of two post-industrial towns, I argue, opens up new ways of understanding the connection between deindustrialisation and political discontent and forces us to reconsider our theories of legitimacy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2024 Sacha Hilhorst
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Elliott, Rebecca and Archer, Robin

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