The conscience constituent is a term from social movement theory which refers to someone who participates in a social movement without standing to benefit herself if the movement achieves its goal. Although the word ‘conscience’ is used, the theory says nothing at all about what sort of motive conscience is. This seems to me a serious omission, so in my research project Other People’s Struggles, I examine conscience in greater depth, to see what sort of motive conscience is, and what sorts of problems it might create for the beneficiaries of a social movement to rely on it.
Conscience 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.
IMAGE CREDIT: NICOLA GASTALDI, PAPER BOATS (2017), FROM THE 100 DAYS LOOPING GIF PROJECT (http://www.gasta.org/portfolio/gastaloops/).