Other People’s Struggles

Apr 06

Motivations of the Adherent

In Other People’s Struggles, I define an adherent as a participant in a social movement who is not motivated as a beneficiary of the movement’s success. I contrast adherents with constituents who are motivated as beneficiaries.

The question I consider here is what motivates adherents, if not benefitting from goal accomplishment. Social movement theory, in considering the ‘conscience constituent’, which is the usual term for a participant who does not stand to benefit from the movement’s work, has had little to say about motivations. It has been mainly concerned to explain what such participants can do to get collective action going when the beneficiaries are too weak or divided to do so themselves.

The first possibility to consider is the rational self-interest proposed by rational choice theory. Most rational choice accounts of such questions treat adherence just as a matter of having a peculiar preference for the satisfaction of others’ interests. This seems to me either unilluminating or implausible. If it is no more than a peculiar preference, offered without further explanation, it is unilluminating. If, on the other hand, it is to be explained as really egoistic – that the adherent has made the satisfaction of others’ interests her own interest – it seems implausible. My other-regarding concerns are obviously egoistic in the weak self-referential sense that they are my concerns, rather than anyone else’s; or that, when I act on them, they are, presumably, compelling for me. But that does not have to mean that they are egoistic in the stronger sense that they are self-regarding concerns, that is not only my concerns, but concerns for myself rather than for others.

Egoism may be the motivation for some of the behaviour we mistake for adherence, such as that of far-sighted egoists who engage in ‘reciprocal altruism’ to accumulate credit with those who may later benefit them in return. But this sort of behaviour is better analysed as the interaction of (present and future) constituents, rather than the constituents and adherents. It certainly doesn’t adequately explain the help offered by adherents now to those who they expect never to be in a position to reciprocate. Adherents are characteristically non-reciprocal altruists. They help even when they expect to get nothing back. Rather than being motivated by what her help does for her, such an altruist is motivated by what it does for others.

Rational choice also directs our attention to selective incentives, that is, to incentives made available only to participants. Adherents, as I have defined them, cannot be motivated as beneficiaries of goal accomplishment. If they could, they would actually be constituents. But adherents might receive selective incentives as side-benefits as a reward for participation, regardless of goal accomplishment. These might include material incentives, such as pay; interpersonal incentives such as praise and social approval by others; and internalized incentives such as the sense of righteousness and efficacy (the so-called ‘warm glow’).

It seems unlikely, however, that such incentives make up much of the explanation of what motivates adherents. Material incentives are unlikely to match what adherents could make in other lines of work, and many adherents who participate in social movements are volunteers. Interpersonal incentives, such as social approval, can also often be achieved more cheaply in other ways. Indeed, adhering to other people’s struggles is often actually costly in this regard, in exposing adherents to criticism from their own communities. They often lose status through participation.

Although interpersonal incentives, and also personalised ones like the warm glow may accompany adherence, it seems unlikely they actually motivate it. One thought experiment to test that claim is to consider how an adherent would react if, after being praised by others for her help, and experiencing the warm glow, she learned that she had been tricked and her work had actually done nothing for the cause. It seems likely that she would feel that the work had not been worthwhile, despite the fact that it had delivered praise and warmth. Such explanations also seem to rely on the adherent holding herself in ignorance of her true motivations. If she knows that she is only helping others in order to gain their praise or feel good about herself, it seems unlikely that she will actually feel good about herself. There is also a growing weight of experimental evidence which suggests that when situations are manipulated so as to remove selective incentives, empathetic people are no less likely to help others, even at cost to themselves.

Another possibility is that adherents are just good people. Moral psychology has come up with persuasive accounts of why we are not just selfish and why we are moved to prosocial behaviour. But this is probably insufficient to explain adherents’ support for other people’s struggles. Our sense of altruism is fragile. It is easily swayed by irrelevant considerations, situational factors, and illogical or otherwise faulty reasoning. Notoriously it predisposes us to help the ‘in group’ (people like ourselves) rather than the ‘out group’ (those we perceive as other). So it will not readily explain why some people side with other people’s struggles.

Perhaps, however, some people are special in this respect. Perhaps adherence is motivated by people’s pure goodness, meaning their willingness to experience a net loss of welfare in the interest of others, and to do so unconditionally, without themselves expecting, or making it a condition, that others reciprocate or reward them. The idea that some people have an ‘altruistic personality’ which impels them to act for others even at high risk to themselves, has been proposed to explain those whose helping behaviour, such as rescuing victims of persecution, cannot plausibly be explained in terms of self-interest.

Pure goodness is not located in any system of giving and receiving, but stands alone as an unconditional gift of oneself to others. Yet there is a tension at the heart of such gifts. They combine both unreciprocated unselfishness – the purely good altruist cares about others rather than herself – and indifference with regard to source – she is indifferent between help she provides herself and help provided by others. Unreciprocated unselfishness is certainly possible. It is characteristic of loving and very close friendships. But love and affectionate relationships are just the sort of relationships in which we do care about the source of the unselfishness. If I love someone, then it would be more usual to say that my concern is that she is loved by me than that she should be loved by someone. Other people’s love is not a perfect substitute for my own.

This stubborn indissoluble self – that it matters that it is we who help and not just anyone – is in my view an almost unavoidable element in adherence. It is possible for an adherent to be a saint, existing only for others and reducing himself to a channel for other-directedness. But most people – even very good people – have to retain a strong sense of self in order to act in others’ interests. They cannot dissolve themselves in helping others. On the contrary, they have to preserve themselves, so that they can give of themselves. This means that their selves – their identities, needs and desires – have to be taken into account when a social movement accepts their help.

I think this implies that we should not think so much of pure goodness as of conscience. Typically, the adherent does not only want others to be helped. She feels she has a moral responsibility to help which can only be discharged by she herself helping.

We need to make an excursion into the philosophy of conscience in order to understand better what sort of motivation it is. The excursion will suggest two important things. First, conscience is not just concern for others but a concern for others which belongs to me. And secondly, my conscience does not just belong to me, but also to others outside me. Herein lies both its motivating force but also its potential difficulty for social movements.

Conscience, in philosophical writing, is usually imagined as a moral voice within us, but a voice that is not fully our own. If it were fully our own, it would not make sense to think, as we characteristically do, of it telling us what to do, or of it telling us things that we don’t want to hear. On the other hand, consciences are also personally owned. If they were not, it would be much easier to reject the voice of conscience as an outsider’s voice having no bearing on us.

But this doubleness of voice also creates dilemmas of participation. To see why, we must remember that the adherent makes two analytically distinct movements: first, the break with her present set of identities, affinities, interests, and so on; and secondly, her reattachment to a social movement made up of a different set. The conscience which speaks in our own voice (‘us speaking to ourselves’) can help to explain why adherents detach themselves from their own communities. It is a solvent not a glue. But conscience conceived in this way will not give an adherent the motivation she needs to attach herself to other people’s struggles without conditions. She will reserve to herself the right to decide what is demanded of her. Her participation must therefore be conditional, dependent on what her conscience, on which she is the acknowledged authority if anyone is, tells her she must do.

What if we think of conscience as a matter of others speaking to us, either through our own reflections on how others would judge us, or just through the obligations our communities teach us in childhood? Consciences of this kind can be the source of powerful moral obligations to help others. The problem is that they require us only to think about how people like us would reasonably judge us, or about the local standards of our own communities. Consciences formed in this way will be glue and not solvent. They will tend to hold the adherent to her own side. How will she detach herself in the first place? This leaves the constituents with the task of trying to stimulate the adherents’ consciences. Sometimes, at least when movements are ambitious, waiting on the refined conscience of the adherent, a conscience formed by judgments made without reference to the constituents, is too humiliating, and worse than relying on their own resources.

The conscience-stricken are split. If adherents ‘choose’ their consciences, they are making a gift of what they do for others, because they might have chosen otherwise. They are positioned as different both from the rest of their community (whose consciences do not prompt them to help others), and from those they help (who are deemed to be passive or motivated otherwise, principally by self-interest). That is not to say that conscience is disguised selfishness but only that it resists conjointness and solidarity. If adherents do not ‘choose’ their consciences, on the other hand, then they must be ‘called’ by something outside ourselves – what their Gods or civilised traditions require of them. Conscience again resists conjointness. These resistances are something that a social movement needs to allow or take into account when dealing with adherents motivated by conscience. Conscience cannot simply be received as free moral energy.

Adherence can be understood as arising from a mix of motives: from rational self-interest, and from goodness and from conscience. But in no case does this involve individuals simply deciding for themselves as individuals. They do so interactively with others, according to generally held expectations about what they and others should do. Such expectations can harden into social norms.

In explaining adherence, we are interested in one particular set of social norms, which I term norms of service. Norms have both targets, whose behaviour they seek to modify, and beneficiaries, who gain from observance of the norm. When the targets and beneficiaries overlap, the norm is conjoint. When they do not overlap, the norm is disjoint. A norm of service is disjoint. It seeks to alter the behaviour of some people for the benefit of others.

Often, collective action in social movements is guided by conjoint norms. You, I and others observe a norm of mutuality or reciprocity for our mutual benefit. For example, we might look after each other when we need each other’s help. The norm might take the form: ‘Help others who in turn help you.’

Disjoint norms are more puzzling. Sometimes they are enforced by the socially powerful on weaker targets, as when parents oblige their children to do as they are told. But sometimes socially powerful targets bind each other to act for the benefit of others. These are norms of service. An example of a norm of service is, ‘We should help those who cannot help themselves even if we do not expect to need or get their help in return’. Another example of a norm of service is the knightly code of chivalry which enjoined knights to ‘protect the weak’.

The crucial point to note is that creating and sustaining disjoint norms of service it is the targets who matter, not the beneficiaries. Peasants who got kicked rather than helped could not challenge the knight for unchivalrous behaviour. Only other knights could do that.

Following my definitions of constituent and adherent, the social norms in play in collective action may therefore vary between participants. Recall that a constituent is someone whose participation is grounded in their standing to gain significantly from the accomplishment of the movement’s work. She may therefore be both a beneficiary and a target of a conjoint norm that enjoins conditional co-operation with other constituents to achieve it. But this conjoint norm will have no pull on adherents. They are not motivated as beneficiaries, so they will not be capable of forming the pattern of beliefs and expectations that prompt following the norm. For adherents, conjoint norms of mutuality and reciprocity point in the direction of loyalty to their own social groups, and away from support for other people’s struggles. However, adherents might be prompted by disjoint norms of service.

Consider familiar social norms concerning duties to others, such as ‘Help those weaker than yourself who deserve to be helped’, or ‘Help those in serious need who cannot help themselves’. These might be conjoint norms, if the target contemplated being weak or needy at some point in the future, and therefore a deferred beneficiary. There might be moments of localised social stress, such as those created by communicable disease or civil war, when ‘anyone’s future might be one’s own’ and when such norms would be both conjoint and widely shared. The same might be true in communities of fate, such as those idealised by Alasdair MacIntyre, in which shared dependence, experienced most fully in childhood and old age and in vulnerability to illness, generates conjoint, unconditional moral obligations to others. A needy individual in such a community, MacIntyre argues, is readily integrated into networks of receiving and giving, because she is ‘ourselves as we have been, sometimes are now, and may well be in the future’.

But if these feelings were not shared, then such norms would be disjoint norms, with relatively little, if any, overlap between targets and beneficiaries. Communities of fate, for example, may feel that as well as the obligations they owe to each other, they also owe obligations to strangers outside the community. They may require each other to offer hospitality to strangers in urgent need, even if they themselves have never been, and never expect to be, vulnerable in that way themselves. But these obligations to strangers differ from the obligations which they hold with regard to each other. They cannot be grounded in the community’s capacity to see itself in the stranger’s place: to believe that her distress might as easily have been theirs. To the degree that members of the community cannot see themselves in the strangers’ place, their obligations will be grounded in pity rather than fellow-feeling, and ratified within the community itself as part of their commitments to each other rather than the stranger. ‘This is what people like us do to help others’, they may say to each other as they help the stranger. Their actions are, in other words, regulated by disjoint norms of service.

Adherents, I think, are often moved by disjoint norms, of which they are targets but not beneficiaries. This may make an important difference to the pattern of conflict within the movement, and especially to those dilemmas arising from the presence and positioning of adherents. In a movement comprising solely those responding to conjoint norms (which I will term a combination), we might expect friction over specific instances of compliance with the norm – identifying and punishing defaulters, for example – but little friction over the authority of the norm itself or the identities of those expected to follow it. Conjoint norms are self-regulating. What I am obliged to do follows conditionally from what you do, and vice versa. The norms themselves are created, maintained, and die through the working of reciprocity. Everyone is simultaneously a target and a beneficiary, so everyone is similarly placed.

Furthermore, in a movement made up solely of those responding to the prompting of disjoint norms (which I will term a cause), everyone would again be similarly placed. There might be criticism of personal defaulting, but it would take the form of mutually committed participants keeping each other up to the mark, in the manner of knights under a code of chivalry. As long as the beneficiaries of the norm remained themselves outside the movement – as would characteristically be the case in a chivalric order (or a metropolitan anti-slavery movement or Amnesty International) then internal conflict would be self-regulating. It is important not to dismiss such horizontal accountability as necessarily inefficacious. Peers may be quite effective in keeping each other honest. But their accountability is owed to each other, and not to beneficiaries outside the movement.

However, few social movements are pure causes or pure combinations. In mixed cases, when both types of norm are in play, we might predict a further type of friction. We might expect to find conjoint norms of mutuality and reciprocity among the constituents, and disjoint norms of service among the adherents. As in any other movement, there would be doubtless be primary resentments over the application of the norms to specific cases. But there would also be scope for additional, secondary resentment over the content, making and enforcing of the norms. The more obvious difficulty would arise over the disjoint norms, whose nature and meaning would be reserved for the adherents alone. The constituents would either have to rely on their own conjoint norms to sustain them without the help of adherents, or accept the benefits that the adherents’ disjoint norms of service delivered to them.

Constituents can appeal in the name of the disjoint norms. As I show in other chapters of Other People’s Struggles, they do: when, for example, Edwardian women appealed to chivalrous men to help them get the vote, or the colonised to British norms of civilised fair play, or when the poor appealed to the rich to fulfil their charitable obligations. Such appeals were not always easy to ignore. They forced adherents to concede something of what the constituents demanded, or deny something important about themselves: their respect for the disjoint norm of service. They could not easily treat the appeal as alien to them. Adherents could not fully secure their own identities without acknowledgment by others – which might include constituents – that they lived according to a norm of service to others. In some cases, the withholding of this recognition, by pointing out the gap between the norm and present behaviour, could be deeply unsettling. However, ultimately such appeals could only invoke obligations under which adherents had placed themselves; rather than, as would be the case with conjoint norms, obligations which depended on the beliefs, expectations and preferences of everyone.

This is not always a very serious problem: the beneficiaries of a disjoint norm are, after all, still beneficiaries, and that may be what matters most to them. The practical benefits derived by the beneficiaries of a cause may be considerable. Constituents who are poor might prefer to be the beneficiary of someone else’s (strong) disjoint norm of service than of their own (weak) conjoint norm of reciprocity. True, they get little say over what the norm and its accompanying obligations are, but they gain from the strength with which it is felt by their benefactors. The potential problem in a cause is that the constituents are passive beneficiaries and not co-makers of the rules by which they benefit. Sometimes that matters more. It is often perceived as a fatal weakness in more ambitious struggles. Even though they are the beneficiaries of what the adherents do, the constituents play a lesser part in making, controlling or applying the disjoint norms by which they benefit. paperdartlogo750_turqThey cannot take an equal part in framing the norm, judging when it has been breached, or sanctioning non-observance. The forces behind the disjoint norm of service are the beliefs, expectations and preferences of the targets, that is, of adherents.


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Mar 21

Modern Problems of Adherence

In Other People’s Struggles, I argue that existing theories have neither satisfactorily explained what motivates adherents – participants in a social movement who are not motivated as beneficiaries – nor considered the consequent dilemmas their participation creates. I also offer my own account of what motivates adherents, dominated by the moral obligations of conscience and disjoint norms of service, and explore the costs that dependency on those motivated in this way creates for the movement. Here I examine the range of problems movements might encounter in deciding whether to pay the costs of adherence.

One of the key claims I make in Other People’s Struggles is that these problems vary according to the orientation of the work the movement (or groups within it) undertakes. The orientation, to put it simply, concerns the direction in which the participants face. I distinguish between four orientations. The first – the power orientation – concerns the pursuit of interests in the outside world. The second – the expressive orientation – concerns the expression of identities and needs, to both internal and external audiences. The third orientation is the empowerment orientation. Here the participants face each other, seeking individual and mutual empowerment. The fourth orientation is the solidarity orientation, in which the participants seek to build the movement itself.

Each orientation, I argue, has its own characteristic set of dilemmas. When neglected interests are at issue, the dilemmas concern accountability. When the denial of self-expression is at issue, the dilemmas concern authenticity. When the issue is empowerment, the dilemmas concern agency, and when the issue is solidarity, the dilemmas concern belonging.


In the power orientation, participants face external audiences, and their main activity is the definition and pursuit of interests. The important difference lies between constituents, who are those motivated by the desire that their interests be successfully defined and pursued, and adherents, who are motivated by the desire that the interests of others be successfully defined and pursued.

The main task in the pursuit of interests, in any modern setting, is representation. And the most significant dilemma with the use of adherents in the pursuit of others’ interests is accountability, that is, guaranteeing their reliability as representatives. Of course, problems of accountability can arise whoever is doing the representing. But the problems may be especially acute when the representative is an adherent. For example, some of the privileged roles adherents characteristically undertake for a social movement are hidden from the constituents’ sight while they are being performed, which makes it hard to monitor them. Other roles rely on the adherent’s possession of information that the constituents either cannot have, or which it would be inordinately costly for them to acquire for themselves. This might arise where adherents are supplying expert advice or inside knowledge of how a representative system works. Constituents may find it hard to judge easily how well such work is being done, especially if the criteria by which quality is judged are themselves set by adherents. Constituents suffering under historical disadvantage may lack the political resources they need to judge performance. Moreover, since adherents characteristically control more political resources than constituents, they can use these resources to deflect scrutiny and criticism, making them harder to control than those who are dependent in this regard on the constituents.

“Constituents who rely on adherents to lobby distant governments on their behalf may lack the capacity not only to lobby, but also to judge whether lobbying is well done by their representatives.”

There are various ways that constituents might seek to control an adherent who represents them. They might restrict her powers, or require her to seek permissions, or place her in a paid and contractual relationship with them. But all these are costly solutions, and they also create distance within the movement. A paid adherent, for example, may well be more reliable. But money also makes relationships colder and less personal. The paid adherent is ‘doing it for money’ and not ‘doing it for love’. In work oriented towards a deeper, warmer conjointness, this may prove an unattractive arrangement, because it impedes the creation of solidarity between constituents and adherents.

“As with psychologists and prostitutes, paying an adherent is a way of acknowledging that what is going on is not affection, with all the complications that brings, but an impersonal, commercial transaction.”

For example, consider the contrast, made by Foucault in his final lectures, between rhetoric, in which the speaker does not identify himself with the truths that he speaks; and parrhesia, the courageous or ‘fearless speech’ in which the speaker binds himself to the truth, thereby sharing the danger if the truths spoken on behalf of others turn out to displease the powerful. Using this useful distinction, we can distinguish between three roles an adherent might play in representation. An advocate will make your case for you, but without committing himself personally to the statements he makes in your name, which he might not share, or even find repugnant. His advocacy is therefore controlled – he acts under instruction, as the lawyers say – so the arrangement will have gone wrong if he fails to convey your meaning. But it is also impersonal, for you never know whether he himself shares your views; and his advocacy, whatever its rhetorical competence, will lack the passion that accompanies speaking from the heart. Furthermore, his advocacy operates at a distance, because he does not share the risk if the truths he speaks turn out badly. Your defence lawyer does not join you in prison.

The opposite role, in matters of representation, is the champion. The champion takes on more of the risk than anyone else. His actions are courageous, which may be very valuable to an oppressed movement. He has made your cause his own. But in doing so he acquires autonomy. Since he is more exposed than anyone else, he insists on deciding for himself how he will fight your cause for you. He does not work under instruction. His speaking is personal, more tightly bound in to the cause, but also harder to control.

The third role is that of the ally. She speaks in the name of others and shares with the champion a willingness to take risks, or, perhaps better, to share them. But she does not insist on autonomy. She shares with the advocate a willingness to defer to the constituents concerning what is to be said and done. But unlike the advocate, who remains impersonal, the ally also makes a personal commitment to the cause. This includes helping to decide what is to be said so that the case can be made in a way that respects her own feelings and other beliefs. She speaks alongside and among the constituents, unlike both the semi-detached champion who insists on autonomy and the advocate who is professionally distant. None of these is intrinsically a preferable arrangement. Movements which are prepared to be championed will have to take the risk that their champions prove unreliable. Those that pay for advocacy ought to get what they pay for, but without the personal endorsement and commitment offered by a champion.

“The problem with champions is their unreliability. The problem with advocates is their chilliness.”

Adherents are often thought to be useful because they can help to ‘frame’ and ‘bridge’ the demands a social movement wants to make, linking it to other movements and wider struggles. But when the movement’s work is more ambitious, perhaps in seeking to articulate a distinct demand of its own, such help can be harmful. Framing a demand so as to place it in perspective can mean slotting it into an already existing frame, and thereby risks appropriating it for some other cause. Distinctness can be lost in subtler ways too. Adherents may not be bent on capture, but anxious to help; and simply find it most natural to frame the constituents’ problem by generalizing it, treating their grievances as instances of a larger problem from which others, perhaps even including the adherents themselves, also suffer. Such reframing may be unsatisfactory to the constituents if the consequence is the dilution of the interests that are specific to their own struggle. Or it may be that adherents are anxious to belong, and therefore, consciously or unconsciously, favour framings which reflexively authorise their role in the struggle. We might see this as an attempt to break out of the dilemmas of disjointness by making everyone, adherent and constituent alike, constituents of one big cause. But constituents, especially in more ambitious movements, might see it differently, as an overbroadening of the membership and a loss of focus on their specific interests.

Social movements might easily be tempted to rely solely on constituents in matters of representation. But things are not so simple. Studies of descriptive representation suggest that relying on those who can make an immediate, descriptive claim to represent are not always easily held to account for what they do, because their claim to represent rests so heavily on a pre-emptive claim concerning what they are. An adherent, by contrast, has to work a little harder as a representative because he cannot make such an immediate claim. As potential beneficiaries of the movement’s work, constituents are, after all, interested parties. This both entitles them to represent themselves, and also requires them to ‘declare an interest’ when they do so. In certain forums, after all, an interested party is often expected to absent herself when the decision is made. The adherent is, by contrast, a disinterested party, at least with respect to the interest which is being represented. For the same reasons, this both qualifies her (as disinterested and hence ‘neutral’), and disqualifies her (as lacking an interest at stake).

“To ‘declare an interest’ is both to make a claim to be heard and also to acknowledge a compromising reservation which places your views under suspicion.”

For a social movement, therefore, the dilemma of political representation may turn on how the constituents conceive of their interests. If it is held that interests can be, or must be, defined independently of the judgments of the individuals whose interests they are, then there will be no need to bar adherents from representing them. If, however, interests are thought to require definition by those whose interests they are, then the constitutuents may decide that their interests are likely to be best served if they represent themselves.

We also need to distinguish between the pursuit of crystallized interests on the one hand; and the production of fresh proposals and the imagination of alternatives, on the other. With the benefit of hindsight it is much easier to see the distinct shape of a new demand than it was when the demand was emerging and uncrystallized. But radical newness does not arrive with its outlines clear, and there are particular reasons why privileged adherents may be slower to discern it than less privileged constituents. Adherents may be poor at hearing newness. Older forms of expertise, which they may well possess, are no guarantee that they will be good at hearing unfamiliar things. Newness will tend to strike them less forcibly. By contrast, the constituents may possess an epistemically superior ‘double consciousness’, formed by having to see things both through their own eyes and those of their oppressors.

“Adherents may be quite willing to apply their expertise to a new situation, but they find it much harder to be placed in a position in which it is impossible for them to be experts, or in which their expertise is called into question. But this calling into question is precisely what more ambitious movements feel they have to do.”

However, this may not be so, which is one reason why the dilemma of accountability is so complicated. For one thing, the oppressed are not invariably clearsighted: indeed their view can be fogged by oppression itself. Their virtues may be ‘burdened’. For another, the adherent is not just privileged. She has also decided to participate in other people’s struggles. She may herself exhibit some of the ‘epistemic virtues’, such as openmindedness, curiosity and (perhaps especially) diligence and a willingness to ‘work on herself’ in order to overcome privilege.

In this way, the value of the adherent, acting as the representative of new demands, turns on the ambition of the struggle to be represented. Where constituents are weak and their struggle is unambitious, perhaps in merely wanting to be represented somehow, adherents can be indispensable and, indeed, highly valued. They can, for example, make eloquent petitions on behalf of the constituents. This is because the provenance of petitions does not rest on their being made by the person to whom the wrong was done, but only that the wrong occurred. As a struggle becomes more ambitious, however, it has to find its own language. The old language in which the adherents are fluent cannot fully express the newness of what constituents want to say, and the new language in which these things can be said is still emerging. The typical statement is of these more ambitious movements is the declaration: the statement made not from below but by equals to equals. The provenance of declarations requires them to be made in the first person, or their newness is missed. More ambitious movements will therefore be less inclined to value adherents for their wider perspectives, and more inclined to trust their own voices.

“Adherents can make petitions, but it is harder for them to make declarations.”

The crucial point to note here, I think, is that it is exactly the same features of the adherent – those that make her so useful in movements of low ambition – that become problematic when it comes to hearing new demands and defining new interests.

In sum, then, the dilemma of the adherent is the risk of misrepresentation, when interests are crystallized; and suppression, when they are emergent.


“When it comes to identity expression, what matters is what the adherent can be, rather than what they can do.”

In the power orientation, the dilemmas are concerned with what adherents do. In the expressive orientation, the dilemmas concern what they are. There is a corresponding shift from questions of accountability to questions of authenticity. In the expressive orientation, the movement’s work is concerned with the expression of identities, needs and desires. The difference between constituent and adherent in this work lies between constituents motivated to express fully their own identities, needs and desires; and adherents as those whose motivation is the desire for the identities, needs and desires of others to be fully expressed. How readily an identity can be expressed vicariously will turn on its provenance; that is, whether it is grounded in distinct experiences, and if so how readily these experiences can be shared with, or communicated to, others.

For example, some social struggles seek the extension of rights to constituents who do not currently hold them, on the grounds that such constituents share the same experiences or needs as those who already do. In such struggles, the adherent is often a possible and useful ally because the claim is made in terms of needs and experiences in which she shares, and which have already proved secure for her in grounding a right. The claim gains provenance because adherents endorse it.

In other struggles, however, the claim is made in terms not of commonalities, but distinctness, especially of experience, but also of nature, needs, or desires. The claims are made in the name of something which is not already owned by, or shared with, adherents. Claims like this cannot be made by adherents because she cannot speak with the same authority. The difference which is being articulated and expressed rests upon an essence, nature or needs that she does not have, experiences that she has not shared, or desires she herself does not feel. That is not to say that adherents cannot make authoritative statements at all, but only that their statements now require endorsement by constituents. The requirements of provenance are thereby reversed. Adherents are less possible and less useful allies. He can identify-with, but not identify-as a constituent. Disjointness, then, is produced by these different needs for provenance.

It is, however, possible to envisage other approaches in which the process of building new identities is more open, assisted but neither distracted nor overwhelmed by adherent contributions. For example, Marxist, and especially Leninist, models of leadership propose an ‘obstetric’ role for party intellectuals in bringing the revolutionary class to birth. Workers, no matter how distinctive their experiences, cannot become aware of themselves as a class without guidance from those with a ‘scientific’ understanding of those experiences. There is no reason why this should not be an educated worker. But it does not have to be, and there will be historical circumstances in which it is quite unlikely to be. The cause of exploitation may not be immediately graspable by the exploited, though they may be painfully aware of its effects. There may need to be intellectuals – perhaps of a new, ‘organic’ kind as Gramsci suggested or exponents of a ‘general intellect’ as ‘autonomia’ Italian Marxists argued – to educate them in class struggle.

Further suspicions about the value of raw experience can be derived from psychoanalytical thought. There is a certain type of understanding which comes from the absence of experience, because only such absence permits imagination. Experience, by contrast, restricts knowledge to only what has been personally gone through. But it is possible to envisage experiences which are no less – perhaps even more – comprehensible when they are imagined than when they are gone through at first hand. If so, then there seems no reason why adherents who have not gone through them should lack sufficient authority to speak of them.

“The constituents’ trump card is experience. Only they have experienced oppression, or are liable to it, hence only they can speak of it authentically, and without the need for validation by others. The adherent may perhaps speak about the constituents’ experiences, but he cannot speak from their experience or evince (i.e. show in his own person) experiences he has not himself had.”

At issue here is the nature and authority of experience itself. At one extreme, experience may be seen as no more than raw material, in need of interpretation by suitably qualified others to acquire meaning. At the opposite extreme, it may be claimed that experiences are not merely personal and non-transferable, but impossible to share. Most experience-based identity work, however, operates between these polar extremes. It tends to see the formative experiences as hard to share and requiring their own interpretative frameworks, rather than those offered ready-made by others.

However, dilemmas also arise with closed identity work. The border that the closed approach erects against the adherent is both theoretically uncrossable, but also anxiously policed. It is striking that social movements that seek to close themselves off entirely from adherents often seem to find it hard to stop talking about them. Conversation without them is still about them.

“To confirm yourself in your own identity is strictly speaking contradictory like self-baptism or self-ennoblement.”

One possible explanation is that distinctness of experience alone is not enough to secure an identity. Identities are not self-validating, but relationally validated. They cannot be secured from the resources of constituents alone, but require others to recognise them. They have to be secured through being recognised by others who do not share them.

“The demand for recognition is a demand to recognise the constituent as different from himself.”

What constituents seek from adherents is not inclusion in a common identity, but the recognition of a distinct identity; and acknowledgment of what is not shared conjointly with others, but is nonetheless valuable and worthy of esteem. When an adherent offers such recognition, he does not share in the recognised identity. On the contrary, he is acknowledging his own difference from the identity that now forms the basis of the movement’s work. The adherent is thereby simultaneously excluded from the process of identity formation, but also the subject of a demand that he recognise it. This will be experienced by the movement as disjointness.

Arguably too, every effort to define an identity (or any category) is an attempt to draw a border, since definitions struggle towards meaning through making contrasts. Excluding the adherents turns out not to be a matter of drawing a line and pushing them across it, but is perpetually destabilised by the re-emergence of difference on either side. For a social movement employing closure to define identities, these instabilities are manifested in two problematic figures. They are, first, the constituent who ought to fit but whom the movement struggles to include; and, secondly, the adherent who ought not to fit but whom the movement struggles to exclude. They are created, respectively, by problematic differences and problematic similarities. ‘Closed’ approaches to identity expression are haunted by these two spectral figures.

The frustration of being excluded but also subjected to demands creates the temptation for the adherent to seek to ‘cross over’ into the ranks of the constituents by seeking out the experiences that would entitle him to share conjointly in the making of a new identity. Crossing over has its own characteristic dilemmas. It is not always politically useful for an adherent to surrender her privileges. The more completely she does so, the less she can open doors, split the elite, and deliver those benefits which made her valuable to the constituents in the first place. Once she crosses over, she ceases to be an irritant or force for change in her own community. It may be more useful if she stays put to show that the dominant community is split, or that there is the possibility of change.

“Renunciation is therefore an unstable category. There are the privileged and the non-privileged but not those who have wholly renounced their privileges.”

On the other hand, the less complete her conversion, the less the adherent can share in the identity-building work of the movement. She is likely to be the object of suspicion unless she crosses over for good. There is a radical incompleteness in the notion of total renunciation. It arises because there is a critical difference between renouncing a privilege and not having (or never having had) a privilege to renounce. To be able to renounce your privileges is, after all, itself a privilege. An adherent may seek to burn this bridge too, allowing no way back. But he can never cease to be someone who once had such privileges and chose to renounce them.

For these reasons, and in these respects, it may feel harder for the adherent to participate in the expressive orientation than it is to strive to ensure that she is a good representative in the power orientation. Identities, or so it is often believed, are inhabited naturally, without special effort. For those who believe this to be so, the effortful attempt to inhabit an identity that is not one’s own unintentionally reveals itself – indeed betrays itself. The harder the adherent tries to cross over, the more he betrays himself as ‘someone trying to cross over’ rather than naturally inhabiting the identity he seeks. ‘You are trying too hard to fit in,’ he is told. ‘To be truly one of us, you would have to be one of us’. The very effort ‘to be one of us’ that wins acceptance in the power orientation, here in the expressive orientation becomes a source of suspicion.

In more ambitious struggles, the further problem is that of the adherent’s own identity, and the privileges that inevitably accrue to it, even in the surrender of them. If identities are formed relationally, then to refuse to be a beneficiary of identity work – a fellow constituent – constitutes a refusal to allow your own identity to be placed at risk. If, as is characteristically the case in less ambitious movements, these identities are the ones through which and by which the constituent identity will form – as a new variant of something that already exists and which the adherent embodies – then that may be unproblematic. But if the emergent identity arrives by contesting the other identity’s claim to superiority or natural authority, then the adherent’s identity has to be questioned too.

Self-effacement,among the adherents, is not always to be understood as selflessness. It can indicate an attempt to deflect attention from her own location.”

More ambitious constituents reject the notion that their identity is deviant or immature, when measured against the implied, unstated perfection of the adherent’s identity. They set their own standard of measurement. This cannot leave the adherent unaffected. The adherent’s self-effacement as an unmarked participant, standing alongside constituents ‘marked’ by difference (or lack or incompleteness) is revealed and rendered deeply problematic. His invisibility, which is easily mistaken for modesty or a polite refusal to make himself the centre of attention, now looks like failure to see himself as socially located too. ‘Never mind about my identity’, the adherent seems to say. ‘It’s securing yours we are concerned with.’ But this is not possible in movements of higher ambition. The adherent must reveal and change himself, and not merely, as in less ambitious movements, help others to change.

The roles the adherent can play will therefore vary according to the ambition of the movement’s work. Think again of the ‘obstetric’ model which imagines the process of identity formation as analogous to gestation and birth. Less ambitious movements, in which the hope is to develop a new identity without radically challenging the existing ones, will be prepared to accept the help of adherents without needing to worry that they have not directly shared the experiences of the constituents. The adherent can act as an obstetrician or midwife for the birth of the new identity, not creating it, but helping it into the world. In more ambitious movements, however, the new identity emerges directly from distinct experiences, and challenges outside expertise. Adherents lacking the experiences are now not needed, even unwelcome. They might at most be birth partners or doulas: supporting but not directing the process by which the new identity is born.

The obstetric analogy is not an ideal one, since birth, more than identity formation, is a natural process. It may be more helpful to think of identity formation as a matter of performance. With this analogy in mind, we could distinguish between the directors or choreographers who direct the performance, the performers themselves, and an audience who watch but are otherwise passive. In movements of low ambition, identity formation can be directed by non-performing adherents. In movements of greater ambition, the adherent must allow the performance to emerge in closed rehearsal, and withdraw to the audience. Audiences are important to performances – they shape the reception or recognition of the new identity – but they do not direct or perform it themselves.

“Rather than being excluded for what they are not, could adherents be included for what they might make themselves? “

It is in movements working with open approaches to identity formation that we might hope to find greater scope for the adherent to participate. Identities form, perhaps, not through the uncovering of an already-formed self, but the fabrication of a self which is never fully secure, but which acquires some temporary and contingent meaning through narrative, reiteration and performativity. If identity consists in ‘becoming’, not ‘having-to-start-with’, then might not adherents ‘become’? If having an experience is really just having a certain story to tell, then might there not be converging narratives of resistance that constituents and adherents can tell each other? At least, such a possibility cannot be ruled out a priori on the grounds that present identities discourage it.

More radically, it might even be argued that if all identities are produced performatively, then a distinction between constituents who already inhabit the identity, and adherents who do not, becomes unsustainable. In its place, we might conceive of a shared space in which mobile subjects, unstable performers, identitiies-in-the-making – the nomads, cyborgs, mestizas and tricksters of gender theory, for example – mix experimentally and unpredictably with the traitors and other adherents who also refuse to accept the designation that the existing configuration of identities seeks to impose on them. In the absence of provenance, conjointness might be possible because everyone would be in flight from attempts to categorise them. I return to these possibilities in another chapter.

In the empowerment and solidarity orientations, the participants in a social movement face each other, and their activities are directed first towards the personal development and raised consciousnesses of the members as activists; and secondly to the building of collective solidarity between them. There are therefore two elements to consider: first, the individual empowerment of the members; and, secondly, the construction of bonds of belonging between members.

What role is there here for the adherent? In the empowerment orientation, constituents are those motivated by the prospect of their own empowerment; adherents those who are motivated by the empowerment of others. The adherent, in this orientation, is the already-empowered individual whose empowerment is not the object of the work.

Adherents like this can help others to become empowered. But empowerment differs in two important respects from the pursuit of interests and the expression of identities (the work done in the earlier orientations). First, empowerment can be pursued, but not achieved vicariously. Someone might help me to become empowered – by teaching me, for example – but she cannot become empowered for me, or on my behalf. Although an adherent working in other orientations might satisfactorily represent my interests, or even express my identity, she cannot become empowered for me. Secondly, empowerment is delimited in time. The representation of others’ interests, or the expression of others’ identities, could go on indefinitely. The empowerment of others, by contrast, fails if it does not come to an end. So the role that the adherent can play is limited in these two ways. She must respect the non-transferability of empowerment, and not try to be empowered on behalf of others. And she must also respect the perishability of empowering others.

Here, then is another difference between constitents and adherents. Part of the adherents’ motivation comes from the constituents’ pursuit of empowerment, more than its achievement. This is exactly the reverse of the position of the constituent motivated by goal accomplishment. To her, achievement, more than pursuit, is what matters.

Empowerment can be conjoint or disjoint. If it is conjoint, then the participants empower each other reciprocally without the help of anyone else. If it is disjoint, one participant empowers another without herself becoming empowered. The key figure in disjoint empowerment is the protégé, or favoured pupil, who is first trained by those with greater capabilities, and then in turn trains others.

The figuration of disjoint empowerment is not a chain along which learning is passed, but a hierarchy down which it cascades.

By contrast, conjoint empowerment draws on the resources of the group, and its purpose is not exactly instruction, but to create a space within which capabilities can be collectively built.

“Empowerment is a personally owned and non-transferable achievement. It is work that cannot be delegated to others.”

“Empowerment is also perishable: It must fail, or in succeeding, dissolve itself.”

The nature and extent of the dilemmas caused by disjointness, I suggest, turn on the ambition of the movement’s work. Disjoint empowerment is adequate in less ambitious work where the intention is that the constituents learn something static, and that they should become pupils in order to learn it. More ambitious constituents want to judge capabilities for themselves, and not wait to be told when they have qualified by the teacher. In still more ambitious movements, disjoint empowerment is simply unbearable tutelage. It is inattentive to what the oppressed themselves already know. In the most ambitious empowerment work, what is disputed is not just the lessons that the adherents have been teaching, nor even their status as teachers and that of the constituents as pupils. The problem concerns what the adherents themselves always knew, and their own motivations and positioning in concealing it. The most ambitious struggles require adherents to undergo a form of re-education themselves.

“Disjoint empowerment is sometimes tolerable, but only when the ambition of the movement’s work is low.”

Thus if the characteristic complaint against the adherent in the power orientation is, ‘You are misrepresenting our interests’; and if the complaint in the expressive orientation is, ‘You know neither who we are nor who we wish to be’; the complaint in the inward orientation is, ‘You appreciate neither what we can already do, nor what we might do’.

The potential weakness of adherents in the other orientations, I suggested earlier, is inattention both to the new demands that arise on a distant horizon, and to their own vested interests closer to home. Here in the empowerment orientation, it is inattention to new capability in others, and incapability in themselves.


In solidarity work, the second form of inwardly-oriented work, participants are concerned with enhancing the group as a group. There are many ways in which this can be done, but in Other People’s Struggles, I focus on two in particular: first doing things in common, especially living prefiguratively together; and, secondly, feeling the same way: that is, the sharing of common emotional bonds.

Prefiguration involves a movement modelling its organizational arrangements and internal culture on the future political arrangements it seeks. ‘One day,’ it says, ‘everyone will live as we do now’. However, prefiguration can divide adherents from constituents. Prefigurative politics, with its gaze firmly on the future, risks neglecting the present. To prefigure may seem to pre-empt, if it implies living as though present problems have been solved. Prefiguration can also neglect the past, if it is taken to imply that past errors have been cancelled out just by being acknowledged.

“Let’s live now as though we had achieved our goal,” says the adherent. “Yes, now,” says the constituent. “But, at the same time, not yet.”

Prefiguration can also set the movement ahead of everyone else. The difficulty with establishing commitment to the cause as the basis of movement identity is that it risks setting up a barrier to those who have not committed, but might yet do so if movement identity were to lie elsewhere. The more intense the rituals of belonging and commitment among members of the prefigurative band, the more they may, even inadvertently, exclude those who have not yet joined. The conjointness between activists is purchased at the cost of the sharpest disjointness between the activist and the object of his work.

Movements achieve solidarity not just by getting their members to do similar things, but also to feel in similar ways. However, adherents and constituents may find it hard to share the binding emotional life of the movement itself. For example, constituents, as the more directly affected by oppression, are more likely to experience anger and resentment, and adherents indignation and moral outrage. Or think of the distinction between the emotions of pity and sympathy. We feel sympathy for those whose experiences we think it possible or likely we might share, as they may do for us. Pity, though, is disjoint. We feel it for people whose shoes we do not expect to be in. It can even be accompanied by a peculiar sense of relief or pleasure that we are not in their shoes. The pity of adherents may sometimes be unwelcome to constituents. Equally, to claim sympathy for those whose experiences you do not share may also be unwelcome. Attempts to share what they feel may be intrusive and disrespectful. It is to attempt to share what cannot be shared. I give several other examples of such emotional disjointness in my book Other People’s Struggles.

Emotions bind social movements. But sometimes they divide adherents and constituents.

It does seem likely, therefore, that the problems adherents bring to social movements vary significantly by orientation and ambition. Although they vary, they are all in one sense aspects of a single problem: what to do with the adherent’s privilege. For the adherent to have a distinctive contribution to make to the movement, she must have something in addition to what the constituents already have. Where this difference is acknowledged to have value for the movement, we can call it a privilege. In work of some orientations and ambitions, however, this privilege raises suspicions. The adherent is caught in a double-bind: she can now only be useful by surrendering privileges that constituted her usefulness.

In the power orientation, and in the least ambitious struggles, there may be no suspicions at all. Constituents may simply be grateful that some well-resourced individual is representing their interests, and not mind being grateful either. In more ambitious work, however, the constituents do mind. They require the adherent to listen harder to what the constituents have to say about their interests. In the most ambitious work, the adherents are required to think about their own interests, not merely those they possess residually as members (even if dissident ones) of the dominant groups from which they come, but also the interests they pursue as adherents. The constituents insist that such interests, which may be pursued quite inadvertently, are rendered visible, and that the perspectives from which adherents have judged what is best for others and the unquestioned naturalness with which they have spoken for others’ interests is named and problematized.

“The adherent’s privilege can help or hinder social movement work. Which it does depends more than anything on the orientation and ambition of the work.

When a movement is engaged in expressive work, a similar pattern is evident. The less ambitious struggles demand that the adherent pays proper respect to the constituents’ identities, both to what they have in common with them, and, more ambitiously, to the ways in which they differ. The most ambitious movements insist that the adherent think about his own identity and the way that this itself constitutes privilege. The adherents are not, as perhaps it may seem in the less ambitious struggles, identity-less, but – as it might be – white, male, straight, and so forth. The adherent’s privilege is now made visible and requires a special sort of attention, both by the adherent and the movement itself.

In the empowerment orientation, the least ambitious constituents want to learn to do what the adherents can already do. More ambitious constituents want the adherents to reflect on what the constituents can already do. The most ambitious movements want the adherents to think about what the adherents can’t do. Ambition problematizes the adherents’ capabilities, just as it in the other orientations it problematized their identities or their authority as judges of others’ interests. So the problems differ, but they also exhibit this common feature: that the unambitious and moderately ambitious movements only require the adherent to consider others; the most ambitious movements that she should reflect upon and then make changes in herself.

paperdartlogo750_2406The full version of these four chapters, each of which is about four times as long as the summary here, is not yet published, but will appear in my book Other People’s Struggles. But if you would like to read them in draft, please click on the paper dart icon to the left, and send me a message.

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Feb 06


In researching social movements, it’s often useful to distinguish between participants who stand to benefit if the movement achieves its goal, and participants who don’t. Theorists usually call the latter “conscience constituents”. They are thought to be important because they sometimes help to get movements started when the beneficiaries are unable to co-operate sufficiently to achieve their goal.

This is quite common, because 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 needed to achieve 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, it’s thought, be a useful stimulus for collective action. Acting as unpaid entrepreneurs they can help latent movements get started or grow, by providing the initial confidence or organizational framework within which rational self-interest can promote co-operation.

I think this approach does not do enough to illuminate its subject-matter. For one thing, there are many considerations that might motivate non-beneficiaries to act in others’ interests, and they cannot all be boiled down to conscience without distortion. For another, conscience itself is a complex motivation, and relying on it can be costly for social movements. Existing theory mistakenly treats it as a useful source of free energy, without considering where it comes from, or what costs it creates.

Conscience itself, after all, is both personally owned, and also located outside us. This is how it motivates people, but also why it can be awkward for social movements made up principally of beneficiaries. The part that belongs to us is a ‘solvent’, which might dissolve existing ties and allow us to side with other people’s struggles, but only on conditions that we make for ourselves. And the part of conscience that belongs to others tends to be ‘glue’ and not solvent, holding us where we are.

Thinking about what sort of motivation conscience is part of my current research project Other People’s Struggles. Among the questions I consider in this paper are: (1) What sort of motivation is conscience? (2) What sorts of problems might arise when some participants in a social movement are motivated by conscience, and others are motivated by self-interest? This paper uses philosophical theories of conscience and social movement theory to explore these questions.

IMAGE CREDIT: NICOLA GASTALDI, PAPER BOATS (2017), FROM THE 100 DAYS LOOPING GIF PROJECT (http://www.gasta.org/portfolio/gastaloops/).

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Jan 18

The Labour Party and the indignity of speaking for others

The phrase ‘the indignity of speaking for others’ was used first of all by Gilles Deleuze in 1972, at a conference in Paris, in addressing Michel Foucault. ‘You were the first,’ Deleuze said, ‘to teach us something absolutely fundamental: the indignity of speaking for others’. Foucault’s work marked the end of the era in which the Left had spoken for every social struggle, transposing their various demands into a single key. It had revealed the power relationships at work when ‘difference’ was absorbed and appropriated by the mainstream. For some in the 1970s and 1980s, this reappraisal took the form of an irreducible politics of identity, in which misrepresented and silenced groups – especially ethnic minorities, women, and gay people – contested the Left’s attempts to speak for them, and tried to make their own demands in their own voice.

This paper is concerned with the resistance that these ‘demands from difference’ encountered in the British Labour Party. There are two literatures which touch on the subject. First, there is a large descriptive literature which narrates the progress of the various demands from difference, much of it produced by campaigners themselves, or heavily based on their accounts. But there has been little attempt to examine the processes as a whole, and even less to understand the resistance that they encountered. The dominant impression to be gained from this literature is one of committed campaigners battling against unthinking intolerance in the labour movement. Secondly, there is a literature, more institutional but also largely narrative, which describes the intra-party battles between the party Right and various Lefts, soft and hard. Here the new demands are regarded as part of a Left agenda which was adopted, modified or defeated by the Right according to its new electoral strategy.

I want to suggest that the existing literature over-simplifies the processes in two ways. The first literature exaggerates the resistance, in the interests of producing a heroic account of the campaign. Its account of party attitudes is outdated and undifferentiated, as though nothing had changed since the 1950s. It fails to distinguish adequately between attitudes held by the party leaders directly – their own conscious and unconscious prejudices – and those they imputed to Labour’s electorate. It also offers no explanation of the unevenness of resistance. Some doors swung open at the first push; others were firmly kept shut. These differences were partly, but not only, a consequence of how hard those making the demand were pushing.

The second literature offers a more sophisticated explanation of the intra-party forces involved, but it too over-simplifies. It treats the new demands simply as demands of the Left, which the Right resisted on those grounds alone, as well as in the interests of an appeal to an electorate which was assumed to be generally hostile to them. This, I think, is a mistake. It lumps together a large, varied set of demands – ethnic minority, lesbian and gay, feminist, peace, anti-nuclear, green, ‘third world’ solidarity and many others – which prompted varying forms and degrees of intra-party resistance. In each of these areas, there was a cluster of demands, more or less radical. Even when allowance is made for this clustering, the new demands do not map at all neatly on to the intra-party struggle, though they were, of course, deeply marked by it. Not all of the new demands emerged on the Left; and the Left was itself divided over their significance, as indeed was the Right.

I think the difference about the new demands is neither that they came from the ‘Left’ of the ‘Left-Right’ ideological spectrum, nor that they were ‘post-materialist’ in contrast to older, materialist demands. The difference between the new demands and others lies between demands which could be articulated by anyone without significantly being altered; and demands which couldn’t. They posed a problem of voice: of who ‘speaks’ demands, and who has authority over how they are to be articulated and pursued. In short, they raised issues about representation. The resistance they aroused was primarily, though of course not wholly, on this account.

The best evidence for this view is that resistance to the demands from difference arose less over their policy implications, though of course these were resisted by some, than with their implications for representation. Labour, as a party of specialist advocates, found it easier to cope with demands for policy change than it did with challenges to its expertise in speaking for others.

In policy terms, in the 1970s and early 1980s, Labour moved quite rapidly to a position of ‘indifference to difference’: the guiding principle being that ‘being different should not matter’ in public policy arenas, such as the workplace, the police and the courts, or in dealings with local councils and social services. This readily supported a politics of anti-discrimination (though less easily a politics of identity.) By the mid-1980s Labour policy had already moved substantially to accommodate the demands from difference. It had also put clear water between itself and the Conservatives, although the electoral costs from these policy choices were considerable.

The sticking point were the representational implications of the new claims, not the radical policy content, or electoral unpopularity. This point needs be made carefully, and distinguished from similar claims.

There were six features of the new demands that made them representationally complicated.

1. First, the demands from difference were unusually strongly felt, differing from other demands not only in degree or quantity, but also type. The difference concerned was not simply another interest, to be satisfied so far as possible bearing in mind other interests. It dominated, such that it had to be satisfied first; and it was necessary, in that its being satisfied was a precondition of anything else being satisfied. Older conflicts could be reconciled through an ordering of priorities in a way which left some of them delayed but not thereby devalued. This was much harder with the demands from difference: to delay them was to devalue them.

2. Secondly, and for the same reason, the demands from difference were also not so susceptible to bargaining, i.e. trading concessions with other demands. This was because they concerned indivisible identities. In this respect, a politics of difference can usefully be contrasted with a politics of interests, in which there is scope for compromise because the interests are divisible. They can be fractionally satisfied. The demands from difference, by contrast, were, at their heart, non-negotiable, and ‘all or nothing’. For gay men, the lowering of the age of consent from 21 to 18, rather than equality at 16, was not ‘half a loaf’ but ‘no bread’.

3. Thirdly, the demands from difference were personally-owned. They concerned not just accidental attributes of the demand-maker, but essential ones that belonged to, or perhaps defined, her. Indeed, misunderstanding of what was meant by the ‘personal’ is a good indicator of Labour’s difficulties with the politics of difference. One of the main critics of the politics of difference – Eric Hobsbawm – provides a case in point. Hobsbawm’s main criticism was that the new demands appealed to identities that were merely personal choices. They were ‘optional, not inescapable’, ‘like shirts rather than skin’, he argued. This was why they could not ground a politics of the Left. Not only were they secondary and diversionary, when the main battle lay elsewhere. They were also selfish, individualistic choices, rather than social ones. But this was to move too quickly from the claim that the new identities were ‘constructed’ (rather than ‘objective’) to the view that they were therefore optional, and hence dispensable, lacking the hard, objective quality of class position. It was also to miss the resonances of the term ‘personal’, taking it to mean merely small, even quirky, and endlessly various; rather than, as the advocates of difference argued, essential to the actor and hence to the political action she might undertake. Her own identity was at stake.

4. The consequence of these characteristics – fourthly – was that the demands from difference were owned demands. Unowned demands might be defined as those which can be articulated by anyone without thereby being altered. I distinguish them from owned ones, which have to be articulated by particular people, and are diminished if articulated by others. To take examples from the period with which we are concerned, the demand for unilateral nuclear disarmament was unowned. It was common property. But the demand for the full recognition of gay identities was owned (by gay people). It was diminished by being made by others. It was also non-transferable. Owned demands may be more or less transferable, in that – while ownership is retained – they can be transferred (handed over, leased temporarily, etc) to others as advocates, or champions, or trustees. It was under such an arrangement that the unions had made the Labour Party its parliamentary agent, pursuing under license the unions’ interests. The demands from difference were both owned and non-transferable. The identities they concerned, and their accompanying interests, could not easily be transferred for others to use as bargaining-chips, because the activist was affected in herself if they were won or lost. She was not an unchanged person who had come off better or worse in a clash of interests, but a changed person. The demands from difference therefore required not a politics of representation but a politics of presence. They posed a challenge to one of Labour’s two modes of solidarity: the asymmetric or disjoint ‘cause’, in which one group campaigns on behalf of others.

5. A fifth feature of the demands from difference was that they were emergent and uncrystallized, i.e. both new (not raised before) and also still-taking-shape rather than fully-formed. In this respect too, they can be contrasted with the demands with which the Labour Party was familiar. The older demands, often pre-cooked by deliberation in the trade unions, arrived in a more or less finished state. The newer demands were still fragile and unconfigured at the time they came to be considered. They did not emerge as a unified call to the Labour Party from an undivided, oppressed, formed community. On the contrary, all the communities were split. Significant numbers were suspicious that work with unreconstructed political institutions would lead to betrayal or co-option. Examples include revolutionary feminists, radical black community activists, and radical gay and lesbian groups, all of whom favoured mobilising their own communities first, and separatist or highly cautious coalition arrangements. This was especially problematic in a context of intra-party factional dispute, because an unformed demand was more liable to capture than one which had already taken on a definite form.

6. Furthermore, and finally, the claims were also dynamic. What they meant and implied changed over time. The question of who articulated them was not resolved even once they had been introduced and adopted by the party. At issue, therefore, was not merely the significance and correctness of the claims themselves, let alone their electoral attractiveness, but questions of provenance (who had the right to make the claim) and interpretative authority (who was to interpret, redefine, manipulate the claim over time). The problem was not that Labour had no means of reconciling class and non-class demands, but that its means of reconciling them involved methods, such as the reordering of priorities, bargaining and vicarious representation, that advocates of the demands from difference could not easily accept.

I wrote this paper for a conference in 2015 on ‘Contracting Horizons: Projections of the future and imaginations of the past among the British Left in the 1970s and 1980s’ at the University of Nottingham. If you would like to read the full version, please click to the left and send me a message.

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Jan 02

Men and the Demands of Women’s Liberation

In this research from my project Other People’s Struggles, I look at the absence of men from the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) in the 1970s. This absence can be contrasted with their presence – awkward though that sometimes was – in the Women’s Suffrage Movement before the First World War, which I have also written about in several other places.

‘Absence’ is a term which requires immediate qualification. Men were initially present in the WLM. In another article, published in Historical Journal, I provided an account of how and why they were excluded. In this chapter, however, I aim to test a hypothesis – indeed, the most commonly held hypothesis – that tries to explain this absence: that men did not support the demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement. This, after all, is the most immediately obvious explanation of why men were ‘absent’.

I have gathered data from social attitudes surveys of the 1970s to test levels of support for the demands of the WLM among men and women. The WLM demands were quite formally defined at the conferences, and although there are some good reasons not to take them as definitive or comprehensive, they are a good starting point.

There were seven of them. At the first conference in Oxford in 1971, and in the months that followed, four demands were agreed which were then adopted at the second national conference. They were for (1) Equal pay, (2) Equal educational and job opportunities, (3) Free contraception and abortion on demand, and (4) Free 24 hour nurseries. In 1974, in Edinburgh, two further demands were added: (5) Legal and financial independence for all women and (6) The right to a self defined sexuality. An end to discrimination against lesbians. Finally, in 1978 in Birmingham, ‘the right to a self defined sexuality’ was moved to precede the other demands, and a further demand was added: (7) Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of violence or sexual coercion regardless of marital status; and an end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and aggression to women.

How can support for these demands be tested? In the 1970s, the major commercial polling organisations – Gallup, NOP, Harris, and others – conducted regular polls of public opinion on legislative proposals and social attitudes. These are frequently reported in the press. However, it was quite rare for them to report men and women’s responses separately. I have therefore obtained the original data from the UK data archive and several other repositories, and where necessary converted it from the binary data-files. These are mostly old files, and in some cases I had to recode them to make them amenable to modern statistical software. But once this was done, it was possible to split the original data and reanalyse it so as to differentiate between the views of male and female respondents. I have also found numerous unpublished polls in the British, European and North American data archives to which the same method can be applied.

I also tried to find questions that come as close as possible to the seven ‘demands’, and, for reasons I explore at greater length in the chapter, this was possible in some cases, but not in all. In most, though again not all, cases, I identify the WLM response (e.g. ‘strongly in favour’ of equal pay) and compare the proportions of men and women who make that response, compared to those who make any other response (including don’t know). There are some interesting questions about ‘don’t knows’ which I explore in the chapter too. In some cases, where there are several opinions within the WLM (e.g. on pornography) I compare the responses of men and women across all the answers.

Most of the summary data I use in the chapter is given in the tables below, although by no means all of it. The figures are the percentages of men and women who gave each answer. The ‘feminist’ answer – the response you would expect the women’s liberationists to give, in other words – is given in red. The figure in brackets after each question gives the result of a significance test (either a Kruskal-Wallis or a Mann-Whitney test). These have the following meanings: (-) means that there is no statistically significant difference between the opinions of men and the opinions of women. (*) indicates significant difference at the 5% level and (**) significant difference at the 1% level. For those unfamiliar with significance tests, that means, roughly, that there is a less than 5% chance (*) or less than 1% chance (**) that the variation is a chance result of sampling error.

As you can see from the tables below, the results cast doubt on the hypothesis that the primary reason for the exclusion of men was that men did not agree with the demands. On some demands, women were significantly more in support of the demand than men, but quite high levels of men supported it. Equal pay is a good example. On other demands, such as equal opportunities, men seem to have been at least as supportive as women. On other demands still, such as birth control and abortion, men seem to have been more supportive than women. And on some demands, especially those made later in the 1970s, concerning pornography and sexual violence, women were more supportive than men.

In the chapter, I provide a more detailed analysis of the data, and also provide data on some of the other demands feminist women made in the 1970s. I also explore the adequacy of the questions and answers as a measure of support for the demands. Finally, I offer some supplementary reasons for the absence of men despite, as it seems, their support for the demands. These are, to summarise them briefly, the articulation of desire and identity; the blending of experience, feeling and theory; the empowerment of the activist; and the prefigurative living of change.

As elsewhere, if you would like to read the draft chapter, please scroll to the end of the tables, click the paper-dart icon, and send me a message.

TABLE 1A: EQUAL PAY (1968 - 69)
Do you approve or disapprove of paying women the same as men, if they are doing the same work?
Sep 1968 (**)Feb 1969 (**)Oct 1969 (**)
Don't know676635
Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ594 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ619 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].NOP Market Research Limited, National Opinion Polls National Political Surveys; October 1969 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1981. SN: 69033.

Feb 1973
[Do you think the following is] an important problem or not an important problem…. equal wages for women? (**)
Feb 1973
[Of those thinking it important] [Do you agree or disagree that] women should be paid the same money for doing the same work as men? (**)
Important4249Strongly agree3547
Not important5649Agree5645
Don't know12Neither66
Strongly disagree11
Worcester, R.M. and Gosschalk, B., MORI Labour Party Research Data, 1974; Panel [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1977. SN: 924.

July 1970
Do you think that if … women [became] entirely equal with men in the education they get, the jobs they do, and the pay they get for similar jobs … it would be a good thing or a bad thing on the whole and how good or bad? (-)
Oct 1974
Do you think Britain has gone too far or not far enough in attempts to give equal opportunities to women? (-)
April 1976
Do you agree or disagree with the Government’s attempt to make men and women equal through the Sex Discrimination Act? (-)
Good (5)3843Not nearly far enough98Agree very strongly45
(4)3227Not far enough2824Agree strongly108
Don't know / no answer (3)911About right4646Agree4242
(2)1112Too far1115No opinion / don't know711
Bad (1)107Much too far67Disagree2424
Disagree strongly98
Disagree very strongly43
Social Science Research Council. Survey Unit, Future in Britain Survey, 1970 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1974. SN: 60.Crewe, I.M., Robertson, D.R. and Sarlvik, B., British Election Study, October 1974; Cross-Section Survey [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1977. SN: 666.NOP Market Research Limited, Attitudes to Abortion and the Sex Discrimination Act, 1976 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1981. SN: 1639.

March 1970
[D]o you think that the pill should be available [for all women] under the National Health or not? (**)
March 1970
Do you think the women’s contraceptive pill should only be obtainable on doctor’s prescription or should it be available without a prescription? (**)
May 1970
Do you think the pill should or should not be available to unmarried girls? (**)
Aug 1971
Do you think the pill should or should not be available to single women? (**)
Yes3523Doctor only6573Yes4838Yes6851
No6577Without prescription2013No 4151No2339
Not available at all57Don't know1111Don't know910
Don't know107
NOP, Special Research Report on Crime, Violence and the Permissive Society (March 1970). Don’t knows unreported.NOP, Political Bulletin, March 1970.Opinion Research Centre, May 1970, Evening Standard, 11 May 1970.Opinion Research Centre, May 1970, Evening Standard, 10 Aug 1971.

Dec 1972
Do you think the Government should provide [a] free birth control service? (-)
April 1975
How much [do] you agree or disagree that birth control should be provided free for all who ask for it? (-)
Yes6664Agree very strongly99
No2726Agree strongly1210
Don't know610Agree4341
No opinion / don't know1010
Disagree strongly35
Disagree very strongly24
NOP Market Research Limited, National Opinion Polls National Political Surveys; 12-17 December 1972 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1981. SN: 70.NOP Market Research Limited and Gay News, Attitudes to Social Issues, April 1975 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], 1978. SN: 1105.

Feb 1967
Do you think abortion should … be legal …when the woman is unable to cope with more children? (-)
…when there is a serious risk of deformity? (-)…when the pregnancy is a result of sexual crime? (-)
Don't know 1211108109
NOP, ‘Survey on Abortion’, Feb 1967, Wellcome Collection Archives, SA/ALR/A13/1/4. See also NOP, ‘Survey on Abortion’, Sep 1967, SA/ALR/A13/1/5.

Do you think that the law should be left as it is, changed to make it easier to obtain legal abortion or changed to make it more difficult to obtain legal abortion?
Jan 1970 (-)May 1972 (-)Sep 1973 (-)
As it is413930303633
More difficult354042453040
‘Survey on Abortion’, Jan 1970, Wellcome Collection Archives, SA/ALR/A13/1/6.New Humanist, May 1972, 30-3.New Humanist, Nov 1973, 221-5.

Do you think that abortion ...
Oct 1969 (*)Nov 1973 (-)Jan 1975 (-)
... should be available on demand?211620161915
... should be available in certain circumstances?626754615867
... should never be available?121111161313
don't know55158105
Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ654 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ876 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ945 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].

Mar-April 1983
[Do] you yourself agree completely, agree to some extent, disagree to some extent or disagree completely with [the following aims of] movements and associations concerned with the situation of women?
Fight against prejudiced people who would like to keep women in a subordinate role to men both in the family and in society. (-)Obtain true equality between men and women in their work and careers. (-)Persuade the political parties to give women the same chances as men of reaching responsible positions in the parties and of becoming candidates for elections. (-)Manage things so that when a child is unwell it could be either the father or the mother who stay home to care for it. (-)Ensure that women who are not in paid employment and who are bringing up their children should receive payment for this. (-)Organize women into an independent movement to achieve a radical transformation of society. (-)
Agree completely3435434149483232212144
Agree to some extent293042443740363036301922
Disagree to some extent1818101298192119252630
Disagree completely19164354121724245144
Eurobarometer 19 (Gender Roles in the European Community) (1983). Original data supplied by Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences (GESIS), ZA1318. Reported as European Women and Men in 1983: the situation of women, women and employment, their role in society (Brussels, 1983).

Feb 1982
Do you agree or disagree that ...
There is no real difference between pictures in pornographic magazines and the painting with naked people we sometimes see in art galleries. (-)
Sex is a private matter and should never be publicly displayed, filmed or staged for money or for entertainment. (**)
The use of pornography is harmless and has no serious effect on those who have a taste for it. (**)The pornography trade degrades women because it makes them into “sex objects” for male use. (**)
The use of pornography can help some marriages. (**)
Strongly agree32172621142521
Agree 19174047342145434430
Neither 44129121114111712
Strongly disagree252852152532915
Making pornography available leads to a reduction in sex crimes. (*)The authorities should stop interfering and allow ordinary people to decide what is fit for them to see and read, and what is not. (*)The use of pornography can trigger off sexual assault. (*) There should be no censorship, on sexual grounds, of plays and films. (**)
Strongly agree22139111742
Strongly disagree141979221823
Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ806, [computer file]. Data supplied by Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, GBSSLT1982, Feb 1982. The indicators of significance here are Mann Whitney tests of the whole range of opinion.

% agreeing that rape was a 'very serious social problem in Britain'.
Dec 1968 (-)Mar 1971(-)Sep 1972 (-)Jun 1973 (-)Jun 1973 (*)May 1975 (*)
Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ610 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ739 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ812 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ854 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Limited, CQ855 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].Gallup Poll, May 1975 [computer file]. SN: 1330, Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor].

If paperdartlogo750_coralyou could like to read the draft chapter, in which I analyse this data in more depth, and explain what I think it shows, please click the paper-dart icon and send me a message.

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