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Archives for Mar,2016

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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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24Mar2016

PROBLEMS OF BELONGING

Part of the work of social movements is creatng their own solidarity as a movement.  Constituents (those whose solidarity is the principal object of such work) and adherents (those whose solidarity is 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.

Among other things, solidarity is built through doing, sharing and feeling the same things together. So adherents may throw themselves into the work of the movement, sometimes with an startling intensity. But can they feel the same things? The theory of emotions in social movements suggests that movements bind themselves together with feelings. But the emotional registers of adherents and constituents may differ in ways which weaken solidarity.

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16Mar2016

PROBLEMS OF AUTHENTICITY

When a social movement is oriented towards the expression of identities (or needs, desires, etc), the work of constituents (those whose identities, etc are the focus of the work) and adherents (those whose identities, etc are not the focus, perhaps because they are already secure) will differ. Constituents are expressing their own identities, and adherents are trying to help them to do so, without their own identities coming much into question. Do such differences matter? There is, after all, a common task, even if the participants are differently positioned with respect to it.

In this section of my research project Other People’s Struggles, I am trying to work out when and why these differences matter and when and why they don’t. My theory with respect to identity work is that it turns on authenticity and provenance. Sometimes the endorsement of an ‘outsider’ adds to the provenance of an identity claim. This can happen, for example, when the outsider attests, on the basis of her expertise, that the presumed identity is valid. But at other times the ‘outsider’, lacking the constitutive experiences and feelings, cannot possibly endorse the identity claim. He cannot speak in the name of others. Indeed, the requirements of provenance are reversed. His speaking now requires endorsement by the constituents.

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16Mar2016

PROBLEMS OF ACCOUNTABILITY

I am writing the theoretical section of my research project Other People’s Struggles, which concerns the place of outsiders in social movements: when, how and why are they useful? When, how and why are they not? The answers to these questions seem to vary according to the sort of work the movement – or the groups within it – are trying to do. I distinguish between three ‘orientations’: that is, three different directions in which the movement – or groups – might be facing, and their corresponding types of work. They can face outwards to seek external change by influencing power-holders, e.g. to changing a law, winning a concession (oriented to power). They can seek to express their own distinctive identities, needs, desires, etc (oriented to expression). Or they can face inwards to seek to change themselves, by empowering themselves as activists, or deepening their own solidarity (oriented inwardly) Each of these orientations has its own characteristic set of dilemmas.

In the first of these orientations- the power orientation – the main work is the pursuit of interests and representation, and the dilemma concerns accountability. How can those who represent the interests be held to account for their work? This is a problem no matter who does the representing, but there are specific problems that arise when it is done by an outsider – or an ‘adherent’ as I call her. There can be situations in which a movement gains in effectiveness through being represented by adherents. But there can be situations in which it loses through misrepresentation, appropriation or the forms of distortion. One striking point is that it is precisely the same features of the adherent – her ‘connections’, her articulacy, her empathy – which make her both asset and liability.

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