Disjointness and conjointness are terms I use frequently in my book Other People’s Struggles. They can be applied to relationships, motivations, social norms and the approaches used by social movements in their work.
If a relationship is disjoint, then A (an actor) does something to or for B (another actor) which B does not do for A. If a relationship is conjoint, A does something to or for B which B does for A (e.g. in return). There is also a a third possibility, which I call reflexive (or self-reliant), in which B does something to or for herself, without A‘s involvement. These three basic possibilities are illustrated above.
Of course, it is also possible to imagine more complex arrangements in which, say, A does something to or for B, who in turn does something to or for C, who in turn does something to or for B, but not A. These can be analysed using the three basic possibilities: A is in a disjoint relationship with B and B is in a conjoint relationship with C.
In Other People’s Struggles, I use these terms to contrast three types of work that people do in social movements:
(1) disjoint work (what we do to or for others),
(2) conjoint work (what we do to or for each other), and
(3) reflexive or self-reliant work (what we each do to or for ourselves)
These types of work operate in quite different ways. People engaged in conjoint work – like, say, members of a disadvantaged group seeking advancement by working for each other – will operate very differently to people engaged in disjoint work, even if their objective – the advancement of the disadvantaged group – is the same.
Furthermore, if a social movement engages both in conjoint and disjoint work, then tensions may arise, especially if the work is also ambitious.