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Archives for 2016

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19Dec2016

ADHERENCE AND WILLIAM BLAKE

Pity would be no more,

If we did not make somebody poor.

These are the first two lines of William Blake’s The Human Abstract, one of the Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794). I use them as a starting-point for considering the disjointness of pity: that is, the asymmetric feelings that those who pity have for the pitied. The complexity of these feelings is an important component of my research project Other People’s Struggles which concerns the participation of outsiders  – or ‘adherents’ as I term them – in social movements from which they do not expect to benefit directly.  Blake’s treatment of pity in this poem got me thinking about the ‘innocence’ and ‘experience’  – the ambivalence – of pitying.

IMAGE CREDIT: WILLIAM BLAKE, PITY (1795) (MONOPRINT, WITH INK AND WATERCOLOUR) (DETAIL) TATE GALLERY, LONDON.

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01Oct2016

ECHOES OF EMPIRE

This was a short talk I gave at a conference to launch a book, Echoes of Empire, edited by Kalypso Nicolaidis, Berny Sebe and Gabrielle Maas.  I tried to respond to the book’s title by distinguishing between three different echoes: (1) the echo of the coloniser’s voice; (2) the reply of the colonised; and (3) the echo that is not a reply.   You can read what I said here.

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06Jul2016

ON SOCIALIST FELLOWSHIP

The two men in the photograph above are William Morris (on the right) and George Bernard Shaw (on the left).  They are two of the main figures in a recently completed paper for my research project Other People’s Struggles. The paper concerns the problem of building socialist fellowship among recruits from different social classes. What sort of changes do middle class people need to make to the ways they live when they become socialists? In the 1880s, this was the subject of a vigorous but – so far as I know – almost entirely forgotten debate among British socialists, including Morris and Shaw, but also Edward Carpenter, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, E.Belfort Bax and others.  Some (Carpenter) thought that everything ought to change, while others (Shaw and Bax) thought that nothing could change. [···]

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28Jun2016

CONSTITUENTS AND ADHERENTS

In one of the chapters from my book Other People’s Struggles I provide a critical account of one part of social movement theory: the theory of the conscience constituent. I develop a new definition, based on motivations rather than expected outcomes, renaming the conscience constituent as the adherent: someone motivated to participate in social movement in order that others should benefit. The adherent, in my account, is contrasted with the constituent, who is motivated to participate by standing to benefit herself.

Constituents and adherents, I argue in the book, can sometimes (not always) operate differently in a social movement’s work. Sometimes it matters a great deal whether you are motivated as a direct beneficiary of the movement or standing outside it, as an adherent. The difference in motivation can affect how, whether and when you can speak for the movement, or represent its views to others. It can affect your ability to understand its demands, since some demands are harder, perhaps even impossible, for the outsider to understand. If part of the purpose of the movement is self-empowerment, the help of others who are already-empowered may be of mixed value. It can sometimes be hard for actors to build a common movement identity, or movement solidarity, if they are positioned differently by their motivation

It is part of the argument of Other People’s Struggles that these difficulties do not have to arise. Whether they do so or not is a function of what I call the orientation and ambition of the movement’s work

IMAGE CREDIT: ODOARDO FIALETTI, TITLE PAGE AND DUE BUSTI DI GIOVANI UOMINI CON CAPPELLI FROM HIS DRAWING MANUAL, IL VERO MODO ET ORDINE PER DISSEGNAR TUTTE LE PARTE ET MEMBRA DEL CORPO HUMANO (VENEZIA, 1608) (ETCHING).

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22Jun2016

GANDHI AND THE PHILOSOPHICAL LETTER

I’m giving a paper today at a workshop in Oxford on the Philosophical Letter, organised by Ada Bronowski and Dalia Nasser. My contribution is on Mahatma Gandhi’s use of correspondence. We’ve each been asked to provide a single letter, and I’ve decided to use one that Gandhi wrote to a relation, Maganlal Gandhi, in 1910, just after writing Hind Swaraj. You can read Gandhi’s letter, and my paper, here.

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20May2016

NEIGHBOURING

neighbouring in the Victorian slum is one of three cases I consider in a chapter of Other People’s Struggles, my research project on the problems of ‘outsiders’ in social movements. The cases come from the long nineteenth century, and the other two are the anti-slavery movement and the Chartists. I am comparing them as examples of what I term causes and combinations. Causes are social movements where the participants are campaigning on behalf of others, and combinations are social movements where they are campaigning on their own behalf. I think that such movements work quite differently. [···]

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15May2016

ANTI-SLAVERY AND ADHERENCE

The medallions above were designed by Josiah Wedgwood in 1797, based on the seal of the Anti-Slavery Society, the society of white British abolitionists. Anthony Appiah suggests that the Wedgwood medallion enjoins the viewer to ‘see me as someone like yourself’. But that is not quite right, for the motto and kneeling image are at odds with each other. The motto makes, in the form of a negative interrogative, an assertion of status and equality which the docile, pleading image denies. The slave is not ‘someone like yourself’, because he is placed on his knees as the white abolitionists – the invisible objects of his appeal – are not, have not been, and never expect to be. It is a piece of ventriloquism, captured in abolitionist Thomas Clarkson’s comment that the words are produced ‘as if he were uttering the words himself’.

The medallion is a good illustration of one important characteristic of the anti-slavery movement, which is that it was disjoint campaigning: that is, collective action on behalf of others. In Other People’s Struggles, my research project, I distinguish disjoint campaigning from conjoint campaigning, which is collective action on one’s own behalf. In one chapter of the project, I contrast the anti-slavery movement with two other cases: the mid 19th century Chartists, and late 19th century movements for poverty relief, both of the conjoint ‘neighbouring’ and ‘self-help’ kind, and the disjoint charitable kind.

JOSIAH WEDGWOOD, HENRY WEBBER AND WILLIAM HACKWOOD, AM I NOT A MAN AND A BROTHER (‘THE WEDGWOOD MEDALLION’) (c.1790s) (WHITE JASPER WITH A BLACK RELIEF AND MOUNTED IN GILT-METAL) /  ENGRAVING OF THE WEDGWOOD MEDALLION, IN ERASMUS DARWIN, THE BOTANIC GARDEN: A POEM IN TWO PARTS (1791).

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15May2016

GENTLEMANLY CHARTISTS

The Chartists are one of three cases I consider in a chapter of my research project on Other People’s Struggles. The other two are the late 18th and early 19th century anti-slavery movement and late 19th century movements for poverty relief, both of the conjoint ‘neighbouring’ and ‘self-help’ kind, and the disjoint charitable kind.

The mid 19th century Chartists are an intervening case both chronologically and conceptually. They have variously been seen as a democratic people’s movement, and as a working-class one, but their leaders – men like Feargus O’Connor, whose leadership is celebrated in the Chartist song The Lion of Freedom (1841) above – were not workers or disenfranchised.  He and other gentlemanly chartists are interesting example of how ‘outsiders’ participate in social movements which seek primarily to benefit others.

IMAGE CREDIT: THOMAS COOPER, THE LION OF FREEDOM, ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN THE NORTHERN STAR AND LEEDS GENERAL ADVERTISER, 11 SEP 1841, AND INCLUDED IN PETER SCHECKNER (ED.), AN ANTHOLOGY OF CHARTIST POETRY: POETRY OF THE BRITISH WORKING CLASS, 1830s to 1850s (1989), 143-4.

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17Apr2016

THE WARM GLOW OF THE ADHERENT

I’ve finished another chapter of Other People’s Struggles. This one concerns the motivations of the adherent – that is, someone who participates in a social movement who does not stand to benefit directly if the movement achieves its goal. To read more, click here.

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24Mar2016

PROBLEMS OF AGENCY

Social movements undertake many different types of work, besides seeking external change. They also engage in inwardly oriented work, such as empowering activists and building their confidence. Constituents (those whose confidence and empowerment is the object of such work) and adherents (those whose are not) are differently positioned with respect to the work. The question is whether, when and how that matters.

In my research project Other People’s Struggles, I try and develop a theory to answer it.

Empowerment work cannot be done entirely on behalf of others. You can help to empower me – e.g. by teaching me – but you cannot become empowered for me. I have to do this do for myself. So, I suggest, the scope for adherents to help with empowerment work turns on how the process of empowerment is envisioned. Am I learning something you know how to do (and I don’t, but wish to)? Or are we learning from each other, with the attendant possibility that you might be wrong, or have something to learn yourself?

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