Postimperial Melancholia and Brexit

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author: Marc Matera1
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  • 1 University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
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The lead-up to and the aftermath of the 2016 referendum on the United Kingdom's membership in the European Union have been characterized by particular psychic reactions and affective states: shock, perplexity, anxiety, guilt, paranoia, anger, depression, delusion, and manic elation. The debate over Brexit has played out largely in an affective register. Scholars and journalists in search of explanations have reached for psychological concepts such as amnesia and have cited feelings, specifically nostalgia and anger, as major factors. Paul Gilroy's Postcolonial Melancholia provides a more useful analytical framework for constructing histories of Brexit beyond the usual narratives of reversal, unexpected rupture, or liberation, and for unearthing the psychic attachments and affective dynamics underlying such narratives. Gilroy's conception of postimperial melancholia allows us to see the links between Brexit, anti-immigrant racism, and the obsession with national identity, and the unacknowledged and ongoing legacies of empire and decolonization in contemporary Britain.

Contributor Notes

Marc Matera is Associate Professor of History and Co-Director of the Center for Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (University of California Press, 2015). He is coauthor with Susan Kingsley Kent of The Global 1930s: The International Decade (Routledge, 2017), and is coauthor with Misty L. Bastian and Susan Kingsley Kent of The Women's War of 1929: Gender and Violence in Colonial Nigeria (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). Email:


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