What does the EU do for you? Funding discourses, local disjunctures and ‘left behind’ places

Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins, Barbara Demeterova

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The European project has long promised to smooth the socio-economic map, with ‘Cohesion’ the second largest item on the EU budget (after the Common Agricultural Policy). Yet, despite decades of regional development programmes, “What has the EU done for us?” seems to have become a question of the Brexit-era zeitgeist – and perhaps definitive of the feeling of being ‘stuck’ with inequality. While the media’s quasi-ethnographic discovery of ‘left behind’ places has made for headline infamy (turning Ebbw Vale into “Town Showered with EU Cash votes to Leave EU”), the European Commission has responded with communication campaigns, insisting on “What the EU does for you.” Yet, as we observe in this paper, the discursive implication that those purportedly ‘left behind’ merely do not know about EU funding sits at a disjuncture from their experiential knowledge of their own lives. Stepping further, we argue that Cohesion Policy’s techno-political promises of progress can serve to foreclose what Sen (1993) would recognise as local capabilities. Sketching vignettes from our respective fieldwork in Wales, and the Austro-Czech-Slovak-Hungarian border region, we treat EU funding as itself a kind of ethnographic object, that is parcelled, transported, and affectively inscribed. We explore how funding becomes an object for imagining equality, while transformative promises of a better future become materially enacted in ways that can, conversely, locally re-inscribe the sense of simply seeing more of the same.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 03 Sept 2019
EventAnthropological perspectives on global challenges: Annual Conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK - Norwich, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Duration: 03 Sept 201906 Sept 2019


ConferenceAnthropological perspectives on global challenges
Abbreviated titleASA19
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Period03 Sept 201906 Sept 2019
Internet address


  • Wales
  • Austria
  • European Union
  • Territorial cohesion
  • Brexit


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