Re-animating England

This project examines how movement in Kent, England’s most significant threshold, configures the country’s national identity and sense of sovereignty. Witnessing both the accelerated concentration of EU powers and growing nationalisms throughout the UK, we find questions of nation at the centre of our political climate. What is England? Together, Law, English and Geography are collaboratively reading, representing and mapping Kent’s urban and rural spaces, political movements, contemporary writing of place and legal frameworks of mobility, reanimating the nation through methodological mobility.

Kent, England’s oldest county, is said to derive its name from kant, meaning ‘rim’ or ‘edge’, with the white cliffs of Dover visually encoding a threshold of England in film, propaganda and advertising (most recently in both UKIP posters and the People’s Port campaign in Dover to ‘save the nation’s gateway’ from sale to foreign interests). Kent is at once the nation’s primary symbolic border and, as ‘The Garden of England’, the heart of Englishness — a doubled function found most notably in Powell and Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale (1944), where Kent both defends England and represents everything which must be defended by the English. According to our project, however, Kent is defined above all by movement — movement that runs counter to these potentially excluding and static narratives of national identity, despite their enduring appeal.

We begin our investigations by destabilising visions of the county, asking three principal questions: How has Kent (culturally, imaginatively, legally) been configured and defined by movement, and how has this movement been represented, contested and embodied? What could we learn about England by bringing motifs of movement to light? And how do we build sustainable and mobile interdisciplinary co-operation in order to develop methods for research investigation alongside practices of engagement? There is an important opportunity in Kent to address questions of wider social, cultural and political significance in the twenty-first century. The project seeks to spur interdisciplinary discussions of England, through the lens of Kent, a county whose identity is understood, conservatively, as essentially English yet which has always been typified by movement and migration.