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Nicole is originally from Germany. Hemmo is Dutch. We visited Nicole, Hemmo and their children at their home in London just a few days before they moved to the Netherlands. Everything is already packed and ready to ship.

This month The Sociological Review invited Professor Nando Sigona and Dr Marie Godin to showcase photos and videos from “In the shadow of Brexit: Portraits of EU families in London” as Image-Makers in Residence. Professor Sigona reflects on the project for Social Policy Matters.

“In the shadow of Brexit” is a participatory photo and audio project we developed as part of the EU families and Eurochildren in Brexiting Britain research project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).  EU citizens in Britain were mostly voiceless in the Brexit referendum, while migration and migrants from the EU were firmly placed at the centre of the political and media debate. With “In the shadow of Brexit: Portraits of EU families in London”, the aim is to offer a more nuanced and plural representation of the EU population in London. Today, London is home to over 1.1m EU citizens, including a large number of families and children. In fact, London is a ‘growing’ EU capital, if we consider that children of EU heritage continue to be born despite Brexit. Until Brexit, this was by far the largest conglomerate of non-native EU citizens in the EU. Besides the size, as we have discussed elsewhere, London’s EU population is also noticeable for its diversity, including citizens of every EU member state (EU27) and in every sector of the labour market – from museum curators to aristocrats, from professors to hospital nurses, from stay-at-home parents to baristas, from LGBTQ+ activists to retired grandparents – and from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. 

London’s superdiversity is not only a socio demographic reality, but it is also an enabler of new encounters and relationships which may be harder to establish and sustain elsewhere. Motivations for migration to the UK among EU citizens vary, covering the full range of the migration spectrum, from education to labour, for sentimental and family reasons to exile. For some, discrimination and racism were among the main reasons to leave their country of birth or residence, with the UK, and in particular London, perceived as the ‘land of opportunities’ and where ‘diversity is a fact of life’. For non-white EU citizens, London’s superdiversity offered opportunities to express and embody more nuanced identity projects and articulate in the process a more inclusive, diverse and cosmopolitan pan-European identity. For many, Brexit has been experienced as a rupture, unsettling their migration projects and more broadly their sense of belonging.

The juxtaposition of images and voices in the photo portrait series evokes some of the intricacies and dilemmas of what is to belong as an EU family living in London in the post-Brexit era. Through visual, as well as audio, narratives of both children and parents, this participatory photo project sheds some light on the reshaping of the ‘us versus them’ narrative and offers insights into the emplaced and embodied politics of belonging surrounding the exit of the UK from the EU.

Nando Sigona, Professor of International Migration and Forced Displacement and Director of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS), School of Social Policy, University of Birmingham (@nandosigona | nandosigona.info)

Marie Godin, British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford