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    News: Other People’s Struggles

    Mar 24


    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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    Mar 24


    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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    Mar 16


    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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    Mar 16


    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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    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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    Jan 08


    I have been investigating why men were mostly absent from the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s. This forms part of my research project on the participation of outsiders in social movements: Other People’s Struggles. The most common explanation is that men did not much support feminist demands. I have tried to test this explanation using opinion polls from the 1960s and 1970s.

    The original data is still available, so it is possible to split it between male and female respondents. I have tried to find questions as close as possible to the ‘six demands’ of the Women’s Liberation Movement, and then examine the data to see whether the answers of men and women significantly differ.

    Surprisingly, men were at least as good feminists as women on many of these demands. They too favoured equal pay, equal opportunities, free contraception, easier abortion, better childcare, and improved legal rights for women. If participation in the Women’s Liberation Movement were defined by attitudes, it ought to have been a movement of young, middle class men and women, rather than (as it was) women alone.

    But there are some questions, notably those concerning pornography and sexual violence, where men’s and women’s attitudes did significantly differ. And it may be that the questions do not fully capture feminist attitudes. And it may be that movements are not fully defined by their demands.

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