Archives for Dec,2015

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Dec 07


I’ve written a paper on communist anti-imperialism for a conference in Paris on ‘The People and Decolonization’. It develops some points I first made in my book on the British Left and India, using newly available research material from a number of archives, including those of the Communist International (the Comintern), the Communist Party of Great Britain, and the security services.

I argue against the idea that metropolitan anti-imperialism was doomed to failure because of the compromising economic interests of British workers, or their apathy and ignorance concerning ‘the colonies’. Both competing economic interests and ignorance were indeterminate: they could support anti-imperialism as well as work against it. There was therefore significant room left for the conceptualisation and organisation of anti-imperialism by political ‘entrepreneurs’. The records of the Communists are exceptionally good in describing these conceptual and organisational efforts, and provide the basis for a close analysis of the successes and failures.


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Dec 02


This is the latest in a series of chapters and articles about solidarity between insiders and outsiders – or constituents and adherents, as I term them – in social movements. It concerns the possibilities and limits of shared emotions, and especially shared humour, in a social movement. The case study is the movement for women’s liberation in Britain in the 1970s. Ridicule, I argue, was often a trigger for political mobilisation, and both laughter and ‘unlaughter’ became weapons for feminists. Once politicised, humour became a source of political disagreement and unhappiness between activists.

Elsewhere, in writing about the women’s suffrage movement, I have argued that Edwardian men’s laughter, along with their imperturbability, were the two male emotional responses that the women wanted to break, by producing spectacle that men could not laugh at. In this paper I return to the question of laughter, but from an unstudied angle.

Laughter is one way in which the personal – bodies and emotions – betray us. Even when we hold political beliefs sincerely (or believe we do), we can reveal our ambivalence through involuntary and inappropriate laughter. For these reasons – the new sensitivity to laughter that arises from new perspectives, and the ambiguity of the relationship between what we believe and what we laugh at – humour almost always becomes a battleground in a new social movement. In this paper, I look at women’s campaigns against sexist humour, at counter-attacks on feminism as ‘humourless’, and at the part-guilty, part-defensive responses among the male allies of feminism concerning what they laughed at, and at what it meant to do so. I use a psychoanalytically-informed perspective on humour to explain, among other things, why men and women, even when they shared feminist commitments, did not always laugh at the same things, the persistence of hostility to women as joke-tellers; old and new defences offered for sexist humour; and the emergence of the ‘ironic’ and the ‘self-deprecatory’ tendentious joke.

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