Archives for Feb,2016

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Feb 26


The conscience constituent is a term from social movement theory which refers to a participant in a social movement who does not stand to benefit if the movement achieves its goal.

Conscience constituents are important in some social movements, it’s argued, because their participation helps those who do stand to benefit to overcome their problem of collective action. Even sharing an interest with other beneficiaries is not always sufficient to motivate participation. A rational, self-interested beneficiary will ask herself not only what the goal is worth to her, but how far her own participation is a necessary condition of achieving it. It may be that she can take a free ride on others’ participation, and secure the goal without needing to do anything herself. Conscience constituents, self-propelled by their own consciences, can help the movement to get started or grow.

I don’t think that this theory is the most helpful way to think about such ‘outsider’ participants, so I am developing my own theory. It does two things.

First, it says more about what exactly motivates conscience constituents. This is left unexplained in existing theory. It is just assumed that some people are inclined to help out, providing a sort of ‘magic dust’ which helps to get latent movements underway.  But not all altruistic motivations boil down to conscience.  Conscience itself is also a complex motivation, with its own history and genealogy.

Secondly, my theory examines the problems that conscience constituents might create for a social movement. This too is neglected by the existing theories, which treats the participation of the conscience constituent as an unmixed good, which simply brings resources into the movement.


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Feb 20


The conscience constituent is a term from social movement theory which refers to someone who participates in a social movement without standing to benefit herself if the movement achieves its goal. Although the word ‘conscience’ is used, the theory says nothing at all about what sort of motive conscience is. This seems to me a serious omission, so in my research project Other People’s Struggles, I examine conscience in greater depth, to see what sort of motive conscience is, and what sorts of problems it might create for the beneficiaries of a social movement to rely on it.

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Feb 13


I am giving a paper today on knowledge of colonial violence at the Oxford Imperial and Global History research seminar. The seminar starts at 5 p.m. in the Colin Mathew room at the Modern History Faculty in George Street, Oxford. My paper is called ‘Knowing and not-knowing: peripheral violence and metropolitan knowledge’. You can find a summary of it here. I have also put the slides I’ll be using, which consist of photojournalism covering the Indian civil disobedience movement 1929-32 here.

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Feb 10


For the last few years, the great American newspaper photographic libraries have been selling off their collections. I have been collecting some of the startling photographs of the Indian civil disobedience movement in the 1930s and I have uploaded some of them to this site. The captions are taken directly from the news agencies that commissioned the photographs and have some interest in themselves. They ought to appear if you hover the mouse over the photograph.

I have also written something about colonial violence here.


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