The Politics of Disconnection: Network Geography, Trump, Sanders, Brexit, et al
Due to advances in transport and digital infrastructure, we live in an increasingly-connected world. The value of global flows rose from US$5tr in 1990 to US$30tr in 2014. In the same period, international travel grew from 435m to 1.1bn per year.
But this global interconnection – and the economic crash that was its direct result – has led to a powerful counter-reaction, with challenger politics emerging from both right and left. The figureheads in the global North are various and sometimes curious: Trump, Sanders, Farage, Iglesias, Tsipras, Le Pen, Hofer, and more. While differing in many policies, they share common ground that boils down to the slogan, “Disconnect!”.
Examples of insurgent policies include:
- Disconnection from human networks through anti-immigration initiatives.
- Disconnection from governance networks such as leaving the EU or abandoning free trade agreements.
- Disconnection from production networks through support for localised production, and disincentives to globalised production.
- Disconnection from – or at least restrictions on – capital networks through tax and other financial controls.
- Disconnection from geo-political networks through increasing reticence for overseas military intervention.
There are many other policy examples: British disconnection from international development networks; French disconnection from the euro; etc.
Who is this coming from? Setting aside the catalysis and aspirations of individual leaders, there are differences but also similarities between the demographics of those disconnecting from the right and those disconnecting from the left. Right-wing disconnectors tend to be older, poorer, less-well-educated; left-wing disconnectors the reverse. But they appear to have two things in common: they are more often from the ethnic majority, and they are more often men.
We can understand these people in terms of positional network geography (see earlier discussion). Rarely excluded from key global networks, instead these are people who perceive themselves – or can be persuaded to perceive themselves – as adversely incorporated, peripheralised in those networks. They see a network core that benefits at their expense; they see new, mobile members seeking to join their network and potentially displace them. For those who are white men perhaps there is particularly a gap between the promise or expectation of benefitting from the growth of global networks, and a perceived reality of not doing so.
As the complexity of the networks into which we are connected grows, and as the number of our network connections grows, we become increasingly connected into contexts that are too complex to either understand or control. Yet we demand that our politicians control these uncontrollable networks. And this takes place in an environment of growing digital politics in which form matters more than content.
Combine these two and we encourage the confident assertion of simple solutions: on the right, disconnecting from global flows of labour; on the left, disconnecting from global flows of capital; both disconnecting from global governance networks.
This is reminiscent of the disconnections of the 1920s following the shock of the First World War. Remind me, how did that work out?Follow @CDIManchester
 MGI (2016) Digital Globalization, McKinsey Global Institute, San Francisco, CA
 http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/02/si-we-can-how-left-wing-podemos-party-rattling-spanish-establishment; https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-demographic-profile-of-a-Bernie-Sanders-supporter; https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/03/24/eu-referendum-provincial-england-versus-london-and/; http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/who-are-donald-trumps-supporters-really/471714/