This case study from my research project on Other People’s Struggles concerns solidarity in the global justice movement, and especially the alter-globalisation movement. The wider project concerns how ‘outsiders’ in a social movement – those who are not motivated by standing to benefit if the movement achieves its goal – participate. How do they achieve solidarity with those who do stand to benefit? The Global Justice Movement is an interesting case because the beneficiaries and the campaigners are quite widely separated. Many of those who campaign for global justice are not themselves made insecure by globalisation (sometimes quite the reverse, in fact). And yet their senses of solidarity with the global poor are deeply felt and important to them. Does this solidarity consist in shared perspectives, or ‘framings’ of global justice? Or does the struggle itself provide the solidarity?
Social movement theory suggests that successful movements are held together by collective identities. This is often summarised as an identity of ‘us’ against ‘them’ over ‘this’. In my research project Other People’s Struggles, I’m examining conscience constituents, who are participants in social movements who do not stand to gain themselves if the movement accomplishes its goal. They are usually contrasted with beneficiary constituents who do stand to gain.
One question I am considering is where the conscience constituents fit into the collective identity. In certain sorts of social movement, they are not quite one of ‘us’, but nor are they one of ‘them’ either. Think, for example, of White sympathisers with the African-American civil rights movement in the 1960s as its collective identity became more defined by Black experiences and consciousness. Or consider men who supported feminist movements in the 1970s. Are they ‘us’ or ‘them’? The answers were complex, and the question divided both movements. The conscience constituent is, I think, a ‘liminal’ figure, positioned between ‘them’ and ‘us’. Perhaps the conscience constituents can share the ‘this’ – that is, the goal of the struggle. But sometimes, they frame the ‘this’ differently to the beneficiary constituents. They understand it differently. It means something different to them. Here, as in many other places, the conscience constituent participates, but differently.
IMAGE CREDIT: SHIRLY ELIRAN, WOOING (EXCERPT) FROM BETWIXT AND BETWEEN (2016), HER ANIMATION BASED ON VICTOR TURNER’S WORK ON LIMINALITY.
I’ve been researching another case study for Other People’s Struggles. It concerns adherence in the anti-imperialist movement. The focus of the chapter is on India, and the degree to which non-Indians could be involved in anti-imperialist struggle. It’s usually assumed that there were no obstacles: that the Indians were grateful for whatever help they got. However, I argue, Indian nationalists were never simply grateful. They regarded outside help in a variety of ways: accepting it, rejecting it, seeking to mould it, working around it. My theory is that these calculations were a function of orientation and ambition, two concepts I am developing as part of the project to explain variation in the use that is made of adherents by social movements.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.