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(AND WHAT THEY DID NOT)
WHAT THE MEN WROTE
(AND WHAT THEY DID NOT)
One part of my research project The Personal and the Political concerns the New Liberals in Britain before the First World War, and especially their views on women’s suffrage and the various other questions that women posed ‘beyond the vote’.
Their views were surprisingly diverse. I focus on the Nation group, the writers, journalists, MPs and academics who grouped themselves around H.W.Massingham’s New Liberal periodical, meeting each week in the National Liberal Club. The group was deeply divided over the principle of women’s suffrage and even those in favour were mostly opposed to militant women’s suffragists’ demands for immediate legislation.
The men were also divided over questions ‘beyond the vote’. There is quite a lot in The Nation concerning new feminist perspectives on marriage, parenting, domestic living and the family, especially a series of critical short articles written by the New Liberal political economist J.A.Hobson. There are also writings on the subject by L.T.Hobhouse, Gilbert Murray and others. Yet this body of work is almost wholly unknown.
Furthermore, and importantly, no acknowledgment is made in New Liberals’ writings about their own, personal experiences of marriage, parenting, domestic living and family. This is true not only in the articles they wrote, but even in their autobiographies.
Disjointness and conjointness are terms I use frequently in my book Other People’s Struggles. They can be applied to relationships, motivations, social norms and the approaches used by social movements in their work.
If a relationship is disjoint, then A (an actor) does something to or for B (another actor) which B does not do for A. If a relationship is conjoint, A does something to or for B which B does for A (e.g. in return). There is also a a third possibility, which I call reflexive (or self-reliant), in which B does something to or for herself, without A‘s involvement. These three basic possibilities are illustrated above.
Of course, it is also possible to imagine more complex arrangements in which, say, A does something to or for B, who in turn does something to or for C, who in turn does something to or for B, but not A. These can be analysed using the three basic possibilities: A is in a disjoint relationship with B and B is in a conjoint relationship with C.
In Other People’s Struggles, I use these terms to contrast three types of work that people do in social movements:
(1) disjoint work (what we do to or for others),
(2) conjoint work (what we do to or for each other), and
(3) reflexive or self-reliant work (what we each do to or for ourselves)
These types of work operate in quite different ways. People engaged in conjoint work – like, say, members of a disadvantaged group seeking advancement by working for each other – will operate very differently to people engaged in disjoint work, even if their objective – the advancement of the disadvantaged group – is the same.
Furthermore, if a social movement engages both in conjoint and disjoint work, then tensions may arise, especially if the work is also ambitious.
This is the fourth in a series of posts about the concepts I use in my book Other People’s Struggles. The first three posts examined motivations, orientation and ambition. They set up the basic problem of adherence. Constituents and adherents, I argue, have different motivations. The constituents seek something for themselves (or others of whom they are part). Adherents seek something for others of whom they are not part.
Precisely what the constituents and adherents seek is a matter of the orientation of the movement: that is the work the movement is engaged in. For example, if the movement is engaged in the pursuit of interests, the constituents are working to pursue their own interests (or the interests of others of whom they are part) and the adherents pursue the interests of others.
The degree to which this creates difficulties in the movement is a matter of the ambition of the movement’s work. More ambitious work presumes equality among the participants. Take, for example, a movement which is engaged in defining and pursuing a new, emergent interest. If its work is ambitious it will require the participants to participate on equal terms. It will be intolerable if some claim to have a superior grasp of what the interest is and how it should be pursued. Less ambitious work will find such claims less objectionable. They do not presume equality.
There are different approaches that may be taken to these problems. I distinguish three approaches. In disjoint approaches, the relationships are asymmetric, Some people do things for others, who do not do these things in return. For example, the adherents might define what is in the constituents’ interests, without allowing that the constituents define theirs. In conjoint approaches, the relationships are more symmetric. For example, constituents and adherents might each help to define each other’s interests. Sometimes, however, constituents may wish to go it alone, managing without adherents altogether. These are self-reliant approaches. These differences are set out in the table below:
|DISJOINT approaches||‘Championing’||‘Validating’||‘Instruction’||‘Unlived politics’|
|CONJOINT approaches||‘Allying’||‘Crossing over’||‘Co-learning’||‘Prefiguration’|
One key argument of Other People’s Struggles is that ambitious movements cannot tolerate disjoint approaches. They have either to seek conjointness, or be self-reliant and go it alone.