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    Feb 10


    For the last few years, the great American newspaper photographic libraries have been selling off their collections. I have been collecting some of the startling photographs of the Indian civil disobedience movement in the 1930s and I have uploaded some of them to this site. The captions are taken directly from the news agencies that commissioned the photographs and have some interest in themselves. They ought to appear if you hover the mouse over the photograph.

    I have also written something about colonial violence here.


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    Jan 28


    I discussed men’s groups of the 1970s briefly in my article on men’s involvement or non-involvement in the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s, an article which appeared in Historical Journal.  But there is a lot more to be said about them, especially concerning their failure to achieve the same success as the women’s consciousness-raising groups on which they were at least partly modelled.  They were less popular, and the techniques that the women developed in their groups seem not to have translated very easily.  They also form a useful test case for my claims about the participation of adherents in ‘other people’s struggles’.  There were difficulties in establishing the right relationship between the men’s groups and the women’s movement.  Were they ancillary organisations, there to provide support to the women in their struggle?  Or was there a distinct struggle for men to conduct on their own account, for men’s liberation?    If so, was it complementary to the women’s struggle, or did the struggles at some point diverge?

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    Jan 08


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

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

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

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

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    Dec 07


    I’ve written a paper on communist anti-imperialism for a conference in Paris on ‘The People and Decolonization’. It develops some points I first made in my book on the British Left and India, using newly available research material from a number of archives, including those of the Communist International (the Comintern), the Communist Party of Great Britain, and the security services.

    I argue against the idea that metropolitan anti-imperialism was doomed to failure because of the compromising economic interests of British workers, or their apathy and ignorance concerning ‘the colonies’. Both competing economic interests and ignorance were indeterminate: they could support anti-imperialism as well as work against it. There was therefore significant room left for the conceptualisation and organisation of anti-imperialism by political ‘entrepreneurs’. The records of the Communists are exceptionally good in describing these conceptual and organisational efforts, and provide the basis for a close analysis of the successes and failures.


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    Dec 02


    This is the latest in a series of chapters and articles about solidarity between insiders and outsiders – or constituents and adherents, as I term them – in social movements. It concerns the possibilities and limits of shared emotions, and especially shared humour, in a social movement. The case study is the movement for women’s liberation in Britain in the 1970s. Ridicule, I argue, was often a trigger for political mobilisation, and both laughter and ‘unlaughter’ became weapons for feminists. Once politicised, humour became a source of political disagreement and unhappiness between activists.

    Elsewhere, in writing about the women’s suffrage movement, I have argued that Edwardian men’s laughter, along with their imperturbability, were the two male emotional responses that the women wanted to break, by producing spectacle that men could not laugh at. In this paper I return to the question of laughter, but from an unstudied angle.

    Laughter is one way in which the personal – bodies and emotions – betray us. Even when we hold political beliefs sincerely (or believe we do), we can reveal our ambivalence through involuntary and inappropriate laughter. For these reasons – the new sensitivity to laughter that arises from new perspectives, and the ambiguity of the relationship between what we believe and what we laugh at – humour almost always becomes a battleground in a new social movement. In this paper, I look at women’s campaigns against sexist humour, at counter-attacks on feminism as ‘humourless’, and at the part-guilty, part-defensive responses among the male allies of feminism concerning what they laughed at, and at what it meant to do so. I use a psychoanalytically-informed perspective on humour to explain, among other things, why men and women, even when they shared feminist commitments, did not always laugh at the same things, the persistence of hostility to women as joke-tellers; old and new defences offered for sexist humour; and the emergence of the ‘ironic’ and the ‘self-deprecatory’ tendentious joke.

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    Jul 28


    I am speaking this week at a conference in Paris about the 2015 election.  My paper concerns the result in England and Wales (other people are speaking about Scotland), and especially the main explanation of that result: the destruction by the Conservatives of their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. To an historian, this is a truly remarkable outcome, because the history of coalitions and hung parliaments would have predicted almost none of it.

    One important historical observation is that in Britain hung parliaments almost never produce coalitions. 2010 is therefore very unusual. Coalitions are either produced by wars or – another interesting aspect – are ‘unnecessary’ coalitions formed by the Conservatives even when they could have governed alone. Another historical observation is that the smaller parties in these ‘unnecessary’ coalitions tend either to be absorbed into the Conservative Party, with the happy outcome that they are often unopposed by the Conservatives at future elections; or to get out in time to preserve their independence.  It is historically unprecedented for the smaller party to do what the Liberal Democrats did, which is to enter a coalition with so few guarantees to enable them to preserve their independence of action in office, and without an electoral pact to protect them in the subsequent election.

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    Jun 13


    I’m speaking at a conference in Paris tomorrow, about the recent uk election which, to many people’s surprise, produced a Conservative majority rather than another hung Parliament. The subject of my paper is the Conservatives’ rout of the Liberal Democrats in England, which – along with events in Scotland – explains the difference. I am going to look at this from an historical perspective. My argument begins from the claim that although this isn’t a hung Parliament, the outcome is a direct result of the fact that the last Parliament was a hung Parliament. It was a consequence of coalition and the decisions taken by the Liberal Democrats in 2010.

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    Jan 29


    My article on the presence and absence of men in the women’s liberation movement in britain in the late 1960s and 1970s has appeared in Historical Journal. It provides evidence that men were present at conferences and workshops at the start of the Movement, but were rapidly excluded, or excluded themselves. It explores the reasons for this decision, and the difficulties the ‘problem of men’ caused within the women’s movement, especially between socialist feminists, many of whom wanted to go on working with men, in certain ways and on certain conditions; and radical and revolutionary women, who did not. The ‘problem of men’, I argue, outlasted their departure from the movement in the early 1970s, and the issue remained divisive at least until the late 1970s.

    I am starting a research project on the question that this example suggests to me, which is why men’s participation differed so much from what it had been in the Women’s Suffrage Movement before the First World War.


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