n Other People’s Struggles, I define a combination as a social movement in which participants are moved by conjoint norms. Norms have targets (those whose behaviour they seek to modify) and beneficiaries (those who benefit if the norm is observed). Conjoint norms are those where the targets and beneficiaries are the same people. A typical example is the conjoint norm of reciprocity which prompts you to ‘help those who have helped you’. I also define a cause as a social movement in which participants are moved by disjoint norms. Disjoint norms are those where the targets and beneficiaries are different people. A typical example of a disjoint norm is the norm of charity which prompts you to ‘help those less fortunate than you even if you never expect to get or need their help yourself’.
ere I examine some social campaigns and movements in the long nineteenth century (1789-1914) in terms of the mix of norms involved. I look at three contrasting examples: the metropolitan anti-slavery movement, which is perhaps the best example of a cause; Chartism, which is a complicated mix of cause and combination; and ‘neighbouring’ and mutualism among the Victorian poor, which provides some good examples of combinations, especially when contrasted with charitable causes.
The point of making these comparisons is two-fold. First, it is illustrative: to show how my theoretical concepts I develop in Other People’s Struggles can be applied in practice. Secondly, it is intended to explain certain features of these movements: in particular the use they were able to make of outsiders and non-beneficiaries – or adherents as I term them – and the nature of the disagreements which arose within the movements concerning participation and belonging; and control, or rule-making.
Disjointness in Anti-slavery
n Britain, the anti-slavery movement that began in the 1780s was almost wholly a cause: that is, a movement of targets governed by disjoint norms. Nearly all supporters of the campaign were not, had never been, and never expected to become, slaves themselves. The norms that enjoined support for anti-slavery were self-generated by the beliefs, expectations and desires of the abolitionists themselves. They were derived from evangelical Christianity, Enlightenment rationalism, new humanitarian sensibilities concerning undeserved suffering, liberal political economy, and emergent imperial notions of British civilisation, liberty and trusteeship.
The power of these mobilising norms came from shared patterns of belief and expectation among fellow targets. Although support for anti-slavery was discretionary, in the sense that it could not easily be demanded by the slaves themselves, it was certainly demanded by the abolitionists of each other.
The abolitonists created moral pressure by invoking not so much, or so directly, the interests of the slave, as the values and identities of the petitioning communities themselves. Furthermore, these values were not so much universal principles of equality as local and grounded, and they were effective because they did not need to be invented for the purposes of anti-slavery.
This inwardness was the secret of how anti-slavery mobilised such large numbers of people. The numbers involved were indeed vast and probably unmatched before or since, even by the demands for franchise reform at home. In 1792, for example, around 400,000 Britons – 13% of the adult male population – signed over 500 separate petitions against the slave trade or slavery itself.
he slaves themselves were not entirely absent in this work, but they were the objects (acted-upon) rather than subjects (makers) of the campaigning. This is well illustrated in the famous 1787 Wedgwood cameo often worn as a badge by the abolitionist campaigners.
It depicts an African slave in chains kneeling, as Thomas Clarkson, the movement’s first historian put it, ‘in a supplicating posture’. Above, a motto reads, ‘as if he was uttering the words himself,— Am I not a Man and a Brother?’ It was enormously popular among abolitionists. Anthony Appiah suggests that the Wedgwood cameo enjoins the viewer to ‘see me as someone like yourself’. But that is not quite right, for the motto and kneeling image are at odds with each other. The motto makes, in the form of a negative interrogative, an assertion of status and equality which the docile, pleading image denies. The slave is not ‘someone like yourself’, because he is placed on his knees as the white abolitionists – the invisible objects of his appeal – are not, have not been, and never expect to be. It is a piece of ventriloquism, captured in Clarkson’s comment that the words are produced ‘as if he were uttering the words himself’.
he disjointness of the norms of anti-slavery is also apparent when we examine the relationship between the British abolitionists and those slaves who were not on their knees, especially those who rose in revolt first in Haiti in the French Caribbean in the 1790s and then in the three great slave revolts in the British Caribbean in the years between the ending of the Napoleonic Wars and emancipation itself in 1833: Barbados (1815-16), Demerara (1823) and Jamaica (1831-2). The slaves made what use they could of the abolitionists’ ideals, but they could not invoke them for themselves with the same authority. However active they were in wearing down the resistance of the Caribbean planters, they were, with respect to the metropolitan movement, the beneficiaries of the abolitionists’ self-defined obligations. Christian slaves could appeal as converts to the values which their adopted religion held dear, but the theological discussions which defined religious obligation and its implications for slavery were reserved for a white clergy which they could not join. For their part, the white abolitionists acted, to use their own now archaic phrase, ‘in behalf’ of the slaves (meaning ‘in the interest of, as a friend or defender of, for the benefit of’) rather than ‘on behalf’ of them (meaning ‘on the part of, in the name of, as the agent or representative of’). Acting ‘in behalf’ of the slaves could be done more easily when the slaves themselves could be presented as victims of repression, rather than agents of their own emancipation. In short, the slave leaders were obliged to allow their campaigning to be shaped by the demands of the metropolitan setting, but not the other way around. The relationship was characterised by the asymmetry which marks disjointness.
However, such disjointness, however, far from being a source of weakness for the anti-slavery movement, seems to have been the secret of its capacity to mobilize. It is hard to know for sure to what degree the beneficiaries resented asymmetry, but friction seems absent even in places where we might expect to see it, had it been significant. Slave songs, for example, tended to praise the abolitionists and curse the planters for failing to listen to them. They had nothing but good words for those who tried to help them.
This was doubtless partly a matter of the necessities created by distance and desperation. The beneficiaries of anti-slavery were spatially remote from the abolitionists, and had suffered ‘social death’ – the entire loss of political and social rights – on being enslaved. They were therefore in a weak position to set any limits on the expectations, rewards and sanctions that the abolitionists imposed on each other. But the lack of friction may also have been a result of what in Other People’s Struggles I term the orientation and ambition of the metropolitan anti-slavery movement. The anti-slavery movement was oriented towards power. It had identified the main interest of the slave – the ending of the slave trade and emancipation – and the places where leverage could best be brought to realise it – judicial rulings in the British courts and parliamentary legislation. Inasmuch as the metropolitan movement oriented itself towards altering identities and values, it concerned itself with expressing new white activist identities, such as those of the civilized emancipators or humanitarians, whose newly critical stance towards slavery served to exemplify their benevolence, or newly forming ‘freeborn’ British identities. Inasmuch as it oriented itself towards empowerment, it was less concerned with autonomous slave agency than with the empowering of disenfranchised or marginal constituencies such as Quakers and Methodists, or the commercial middle classes, in the politics of the nation. These judgments and priorities were not seriously contested by the beneficiaries: they seemed obvious and indisputable. In the power orientation, it made sense to focus efforts around what would best achieve the legislative goal. Anti-slavery therefore pursued its goal very largely through disjoint means.
hen work was oriented otherwise things were different. The narration of slave experience was much harder to do vicariously. Anti-slavery organisations certainly edited and even semi-fictionalised slave narratives in the interests of the
campaign’s main orientation: persuading British audiences to feel pity for the slave and empowered as emancipators. The instrumental value of testimony as a contribution to public campaigning and legislative change depended upon being shaped in these ways. But the expressive value of testimony, however, could not be achieved vicariously. It needed self-representation, and black writers working in this orientation were wary of becoming mere mouthpieces of disjoint abolitionism. The best example is the writing of the ex-slave Olaudah Equiano, whose Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789) was widely read and influential. For about five years after 1788, Equiano and other self-styled ‘sons of Africa’ lobbied politicians, toured Britain and Ireland addressing public meetings and wrote repeatedly to the press and to influential patrons to advocate an end to slavery.
That said, most of the work of the anti-slavery movement was not expressive in orientation, but concerned with achieving an agreed legislative goal in an undisputed interest. It was this, reinforced by the exigencies of desperation and distance, that explains why it was little troubled by disjointness. We cannot know for sure whether disjointness was silently resented or undermined, accepted out of distance and desperation, or valued as the condition of anti-slavery’s success. But the lack of complaint among those who were not distant and could speak for themselves suggests that the beneficiaries of anti-slavery are better seen as accepting the disjointness of the arrangements, rather than resenting them. What they saw was that the self-generated and self-validating motivations of the white abolitionists went deeper than the shallow sense of identity they shared with the Africans as ‘men and brothers’, or even as fellow Christians. That was what made metropolitan anti-slavery so effective. If so, then it was not despite the absence, silence or weakness of the beneficiaries but because of it that the anti-slavery organisations could be so effective. But that was, in turn, because they were engaged in work of a certain orientation and ambition.
Chartism: a mix of conjointness and disjointness
y second example is the Chartist movement of the mid nineteenth century. There has been a long debate concerning the class composition of the Chartist movement, and whether the middle-class supporters of Chartism were trying more to help others or help themselves. Marxists have tended to see the emergence and defeat of Chartism, and of the making of the English working class more generally, as the disentangling of working-class movements from middle-class sponsorship. It was the first signs of this in-dependence that Engels had regarded as the principal novelty of Chartism. Revisionist accounts of Chartism, in contrast, see it as less about class con-flict as Marxists understand it, and more about the demand for satisfactory political representation. Such a rethinking allows for the possibility of radical alliance between disenfranchised workers and at least some sections of the middle-classes. These were not, of course, the capitalists, landowners or political placemen, but those ‘uneasy’ middle-class elements who could plausibly locate themselves alongside the politically excluded. Such disenfranchised or impoverished middle-class elements were potential direct beneficiaries of the Chartist demands. They could be approached as fellow-sufferers.
In this respect, the Chartists sought a combination of ‘uneasy’ middle-class elements and plebeian radicals as fellow beneficiaries of a popular movement. However, there were also others drawn to Chartism as a cause. These were the so-called ‘gentlemanly radicals’ who sought and achieved leadership within Chartism not through a shared class identity but by breaking with their own class. They did not come from politically excluded groups. They were mostly from gentry or military backgrounds, they could already vote, and indeed one or two of them actually sat in Parliament. Nor could they be identified as allies in the same way as other ‘uneasy’ middle-class reformers. They were at the head of the movement not as a consequence of identities or interests in common, but as a consequence of breaking with social position, or at least managing to present themselves as having done so. They had excluded themselves.
or the gentlemanly leaders, Chartism was a cause and not a combination. Did this matter? For E. P. Thompson, the gentlemanly leaders of the 1830s were a sign of immaturity in the working-class movement. However, more recent work has seen them not as an impediment to be pushed aside by growth, or as a sign of backwardness, but as the focal point of what might otherwise have been dissipated radical energies. What mattered was not their class background but their willingness to adopt and take risks for the political positions of the Charter.
The Chartists were in a stronger position to decide the terms on which they were helped by the gentlemanly radicals. They could dispose of those who tried to lead them, especially if their leadership failed to respect the Chartists’ own commitments and style of politics. On the other hand, the gentlemanly leaders also helped to define movement identities. Rather than representing an already-formed constituency, they partly created those they represented in the act of representing them. They also partly defined the values by which they were judged, sometimes coming close to orienting the movement around themselves. This could leave their followers feeling oddly wrong-footed when they tried to challenge gentlemanly leadership. The wealth of the gentlemanly leader made him independent. He could not be easily bought or otherwise coerced. But in another sense this was a weakness: as an unpaid leader he could not always be easily held to account.
There was an essential ambivalence in the identity of the gentlemanly leader. Had he ceased to be a gentleman or not? Much of his value to the movement and his claim to lead it rested on his remaining one. It was this social position which provided the security to act unpaid, defy harassment, and spurn bribes. The Chartists were encouraged to take pride in the fact that gentleman were willing to serve the cause; indeed, their electing gentlemen to their executive committees was sometimes proposed as evidence of working-class discernment, and hence in itself an argument for widening the suffrage. But it also implied a degree of dependence.
Gentlemanly leaders could not get away simply with presiding from above, but had to position themselves so as to speak for the excluded. Radical plebeians could invoke concrete, singular and local embodiments of the people, placing themselves among those they spoke for. This was harder for the gentlemen, who tended to invoke abstracted plural ones (the ‘labouring masses’) and identify not with the class but with the movement itself. Their preferred technique was to make ostentatious sacrifices sufficient to bridge the social distance between them and those for whom they claimed to speak. The more successful among them recognised the need for solidarity and shared risk. They attended banned meetings, courted arrest, and got themselves locked up. They achieved a form of participatory conjointness through common work and precarious experiences within the Chartist movement itself.
the source both of its power to impress and its incompleteness. To give up a privilege for others may be praiseworthy, precisely because it is voluntary. But such voluntariness also marks it as impossible for the involuntarily unprivileged. To give up a privilege for others is itself an expression of privilege. Such sacrifices could therefore not achieve the conjointness of identity with the unprivileged, but only a disjointness mediated by gestures and performance.
Conjointness among Victorian poor neighbours
different set of norms, exhibiting much stronger overlap between targets and beneficiaries – greater conjointness, in other words – is also visible in nineteenth century Britain. They are visible in the great welter of unorganised self-help activity in poor neighbourhoods, identified by observers of poverty as diverse as Frederick Engels and Charles Booth. The Victorian poor lived lives of high risk, but had little social capital, so they tend-ed to invest in arrangements which spread risk through reciprocity.
‘Neighbouring’ enabled the poor to deal with maternity, illness, death, childrearing and childcare, the loan of clothes, household equipment, unexpected expenses, funeral arrangements and orphaning. It was a self-regulating system, in which unneighbourliness was penalised by the withdrawal of co-operation or social ostracism. Indeed, the reciprocal norm was so powerful in poor neighbourhoods that almost as much disapproval was expressed of the non-reciprocal gift from a neighbour, which implied an alienating claim of superiority inappropriate among peers, as the ‘bad neighbour’ who disappeared leaving debts unpaid.
But such tensions were primary forms of resentment, failures of compliance with the norm, rather than dispute over the status of the norms themselves. The norms self-policed through the everyday interactions between neighbours and kin. In contrast to anti-slavery, and even more than Chartism, targets and beneficiaries strongly overlapped, were much more visible to each other, and were their own rule-makers.
The middle-classes talked about this as ‘the charity of the poor to the poor’ and some historians have been willing to annex it to a general history of philanthropic kindness. But the relationships involved are for the most part quite distinct from charity, especially in the strong overlap – the conjointness, in other words – between givers and receivers – which is different from that in a charitable relationship. When they gave under disjoint charity arrangements – which they also did very generously – the poor shared with donors from other classes a status as targets of a norm which they did not share with those who were merely beneficiaries of the norm. When, on the other hand, they co-operated conjointly with each other, as they did when ‘neighbouring’, they were both targets and beneficiaries.
onjoint neighbouring did not characterize all the relationships in a poor neighbourhood. Nor was it a system of relaxed kindliness. On the contrary, the usual disposition was one of cautious suspicion. Resources were sparse, and life was tough, so neighbouring involved careful, sometimes even callous, calculations of how useful someone might be to you. Nevertheless, the value of conjointness, and the marker of its difference from disjoint charity, was that it was controlled by its beneficiaries.
lthough ‘neighbouring’ is a fairly pure form of combination, other campaigns and causes present a more mixed picture. The Victorian poverty relief societies, for example, provide an example of how complex the effects of partial disjointness could be. Like anti-slavery and the other emancipatory campaigns, but unlike neighbouring arrangements, charity was disjoint and discretionary. The charitable gift made by the donor could not be demanded by the recipient, nor could it be fully reciprocated, but only answered insufficiently with gratitude and deference. The decision of whether or not to give, and on what terms, belonged to the donors. The poor could challenge individual failures to stick to the rules, but not challenge the rules themselves, nor the entitlements of the rule-makers to decide what the rules should be.
Whether they wished to do so is a matter of unresolved historical debate. For some, the disjointness of Victorian philanthropy – the way it differently positioned the helpers and the helped – did not much matter. In narrow monetary terms, it could be more rewarding to be the beneficiary of the rich’s disjoint norm of charity than the poor’s conjoint norm of reciprocity.
Deferential relationships were not necessarily experienced as demeaning. Recipients were certainly made to feel that they had failed to show sufficient independence, but many of them already believed this of themselves. If that is correct, we might surmise that disjoint norms could operate satisfactorily, even when the beneficiaries played only a small part in their working. It required only that the targets’ intentions were not suspect, that they observed certain necessary decencies, and that the beneficiaries did not regard the consequential status differences as humiliating.
Other writers have pointed out that this account rests mostly on interpretations made by donors and not recipients. They have been sceptical that charity was either welcome or effective. Necessity silenced the recipients from overt criticism of charity, but their silence should not be read as evidence of consensus. In the interstices of the interactions and ‘off stage’, it is possible to glimpse some of the contorted signals and hidden scripts by which the deferential poor signalled their dislike of a system they were forced to accept. Most tellingly of all, whenever they had any choice in the matter, they opted for conjoint provision and mutuality over disjointness and dependency. We cannot be sure how much the Victorian poor resented charity. But to the degree to which they did, it was mostly disjointness that they disliked.
he obvious contrast to charity, therefore, is with the friendly societies. In origin, the friendly societies were quintessential examples of mutual aid. They were autonomous, locally-based societies governed by self-generated, conjoint norms. They relied heavily on monetary contributions from the poor themselves. They were also strict on suspected spongers. What per-mitted such strictness was that the rules were fundamentally agreed between the participants, who were all in an important sense in the same boat, more or less co-existing in the overlapping categories of target and beneficiary. It was because the rules were agreed and enforced conjontly, in other words, that they could be harsh. In return, the friendly societies offered firm entitlements, rather than the expectation of discretionary generosity to be obtained from disjoint charity.
Probably the entitlements afforded by conjointness were part of the attraction. But what was preferred was not just reliability but control, both over the application of rules to cases, and the determining of the rules themselves. The friendly societies were much more popular than the county societies, in which gentry or clerical patrons rather than working-class beneficiaries made the rules, let alone employer clubs, suspected by the re-ipients as serving their employers’ interests more than their own. Employers and patrons, like charitable status, might make schemes more financially secure, but they also introduced disjointness into them.
have only sketched out these ideas briefly. But they offer some preliminary support for the idea that relationships inside social movements may vary according to the mix of targets and beneficiaries participating, as well as the orientation and ambition of the movement’s work. In any movement guided by norms, there will be primary friction concerning the application of the norms to specific cases. This could arise, for example, over the precise nature and implications of the obligations the targets have taken on, or over the eligibility of specific beneficiaries under the rules they have made. But where targets and beneficiaries co-exist within the same movement, there is also the potential for secondary conflict over the content, making and enforcing of norms. The guiding intuition that this suggests to me is as follows. You and I can work together in one way on matters that benefit us both, and on matters that benefit third parties; but we have to work in a different way, if we can, on matters that benefit only one of us.
e have also identified several different stopping-points on the spectrum of conjointness and disjointness. At one end, we considered the metropolitan anti-slavery movement, where the relationship between the target and the beneficiary was one of almost pure disjointness. The target’s contribution was a gift made without expectation of return from the beneficiary. That is not to say that the target gained nothing from her participation, but only that what she gained came not from the beneficiary, but from other targets, such as the approval of her peers. The beneficiary was treated almost as a blank space on to which the target projected her activity. The Victorian poverty charity, by contrast, offered an example of an impure or asymmetric disjoint relationship. It was a two-way relationship – an exchange in other words – but an unequal one. Something was given – money, goods, or an ‘opportunity’ – and something else was given back – gratitude, deference, or a promise to reform. But the two were not considered to be of equal value, at least not in a society like nineteenth century Britain in which dependency was so disliked. Further along still, we have the conjoint relationships in which the exchanges are made on a more equal basis. In some cases, what is exchanged is literally the same thing, as when working-class neighbours took in each other’s washing, each when the other was out working her shift. This I term a relationship of pure conjointness. In other cases, the exchange consists of things that are not the same but are valued equally. This is what I will call impure or functional conjointness. The nearest thing to the latter that we have so far encountered are the internal relationships in Chartism, between the gentlemanly leaders and the artisans and workers of the membership, although there were twinges of disjointness here too. An exchange of the same thing can claim to be the purer form of conjointness because it does not contain any ambiguity over the relative value of different services.
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IMAGE CREDITS: WALTER CRANE, A GARLAND FOR MAY DAY (1895), FROM THE COVER OF THE CLARION ON 1 MAY 1895 / LATER ENGRAVING OF THE WEDGWOOD MEDALLION (1787) IN ERASMUS DARWIN, THE BOTANIC GARDEN: A POEM IN TWO PARTS (1791) / THE CHARTER WITH ITS SUBHEADING “ESTABLISHED BY THE WORKING CLASSES” / THE CONJOINT MOTTO BEAR YE ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS WAS MUCH USED BY TRADE UNIONS AND FRIENDLY SOCIETIES / THE DROP CAPITALS, HEADER FONTS AND OTHER ORNAMENTS ARE BASED ON CRANE’S DESIGNS, MOSTLY FOR THE HISTORY OF REYNARD THE FOX ,WITH SOME ACCOUNT OF HIS FRIENDS AND ENEMIES, TURNED INTO ENGLISH VERSE BY F.S. ELLIS WITH ILLUSTRATIVE DEVICES BY WALTER CRANE (1897). THEY WERE SUPPLIED BY DAVE NALLE OF SCRIPTORIUM FONTCRAFT AND COLOURED BY ME. THE BODY TEXT USES WILLIAM MORRIS’S ‘GOLDEN’ FONT, DIGITISED BY RICHARD KEGLER FOR P22 TYPE FOUNDRY.