Activists and “narrative” – of academia, words and deeds. Oh, and Paul Kelly did it better

The TL:DR – Follow my “adventures” as I read a bunch of articles and only narrowly escape rabbitholitis. Conclusion – there ARE useful things to be had in reading about activism, useful for “movements.” But you need to know a lot, have been through a lot, be able to theorise and act before you can make use of it. And that is something you can’t do on your own, or as a one-off. These are, contra all the Hobbesian shit we are taught – collective processes, with all the hassle that entails…

Before we get to it- two songs by Paul Kelly, one of the great song-writers (not just Australian song-writers, but song-writers full stop.  There’s an album track of his – So Blue – that I tried to get him to play at a gig in London in 1995, without success.  It’s about a Cezanne painting.  This one.

cezanne_annecy_big

There’s a lyric-

Now Pablo’s work was child’s play
Henri did it faster
But the slow old grizzly bear
Was their lord and master.

Well, Kelly says as much as the accumulated articles below, in 11 words, in a  song called “To Her Door”.  And you’ll get those 11 words at the very very end of this interminable blog post. Or you can scroll down, obvs…

Articles I read:

Annette Linden and Bert Klandermans 2007. Revolutionaries, Wanderers, Converts, and Compliants:Life Histories of Extreme Right Activists. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography Volume 36 Number 2 184-201

Olivia Sagan (2011) Interminable knots: hostages to toxic stories, Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 19:1, 97-118, DOI: 10.1080/14681366.2011.548992

Margaretta Jolly (2011) Consenting Voices? Activist Life Stories and Complex Dissent, Life Writing, 8:4, 363-374, DOI: 10.1080/14484528.2011.619710

Guillaume Marche (2015) Memoirs of Gay Militancy: A Methodological Challenge, Social Movement Studies, 14:3, 270-290, DOI: 10.1080/14742837.2014.963546

Marche, Guillaume,(2017). Political memoirs and intimate confessions: Analysing four US gay liberation/gay rights militants’ memoirs. Sexualities, Vol. 20(8) 959–980

The thing I learnt, again, is that Pascal had it nailed when he wrote about your knowledge being the surface area of the sphere and your ignorance being the volume.  The more you stretch the former, the vastly larger the latter gets. Welcome to existence, mo’fo…

Aside from that, there were a few nuggets.

Annette Linden and Bert Klandermans 2007. Revolutionaries, Wanderers, Converts, and Compliants:Life Histories of Extreme Right Activists. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography Volume 36 Number 2 184-201

This was interesting in as far as it went – it’s rare for rightwing groups to get much study (for various reasons). Linden and Klandermans did interviews with a bunch of people (36) as extreme right-wingness was on the up in Dutch parliament, and then with 24 of them after it had crashed and burned.

“Becoming an activist was a matter of continuity, of conversion, or of compliance. Continuity denotes life histories wherein movement membership and participation are a natural consequence of prior political socialization; conversion to trajectories wherein movement membership and participation are a break with the past; and compliance to when people enter activism, not owing to personal desires but because of circumstances they deemed were beyond their control.”

This below deserves some thought too.  They are not mutually exclusive, of course, and the balance very probably shifts in an individual and a group over time, thanks to external and internal factors (i.e. don’t make the mistake of thinking in terms of concreteness but instead in processes and flows, probabilities and tendencies).

“Klandermans (2004) distinguishes three fundamental motives to participate in social movements: instrumentality— someone wants to change a social or political state of affairs; identity —someone wants to engage with like-minded others; and ideology —someone wants to express a view.”

Olivia Sagan (2011) Interminable knots: hostages to toxic stories, Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 19:1, 97-118, DOI: 10.1080/14681366.2011.548992

This one was not directly relevant – basically it’s a case study of a guy who is trying to keep his shit together, but failing. Nonetheless, there’s interesting stuff from Bion (his name is popping up a lot in various things I am reading – The Claustrum etc).

“Real knowledge, according to Bion, involves emotion at its core, and truth is an emotional experience. ‘Learning about’, in contrast, is exteriorised, and occurs in a way which does not change or challenge the foundations of a person’s being.” (White 2002, 93)

Margaretta Jolly (2011) Consenting Voices? Activist Life Stories and Complex Dissent, Life Writing, 8:4, 363-374, DOI: 10.1080/14484528.2011.619710

Jolly argues that life stories of activists who become leaders help us to understand patterns of dissent and consent, can balance judgements about insiders, outsiders and traitors to the cause.  There are some biogs worth reading, obvs.

Guillaume Marche (2015) Memoirs of Gay Militancy: A Methodological Challenge, Social Movement Studies, 14:3, 270-290, DOI: 10.1080/14742837.2014.963546

Guillaume lays out four ways activists think through their ‘identity’

“In the first essay, I identify each author’s way of inscribing her/his activist identity: confessional (Kantrowitz), historiographical (Duberman), testimonial (Hoffman) and testamentary (Jay). 7”

Footnote 7 is “Obviously, the four modes overlap and no memoir reflects one to the exclusion of all the others.”  Sure, and in an interview situation the way you set out your goal will influence this too – since interviewees will try to give you what you want/what is ‘useful’…  Catch them on a different day, at a different stage, and it might be very different….

Marche then gives us some Ricouer-

Memoir writing necessarily involves a reinvention of the past – i.e. not just a passive remembrance of events, but a more active form of recollection, as Ricœur’s distinction between anamnēsis and the mnemonic dimension of memory suggests (2004, pp. 3 and 4). (Marche 2015: 274)

and

“In his examination of ‘the relations between knowledge and the practice of history and the experience of lived memory’, Ricœur distinguishes three phases in the transformation of memory into history. The ‘documentary’ phase ‘runs from the declaration of eyewitnesses to the constituting of archives’. The ‘explanation/understanding’ phase answers the question ‘Why did things happen like that and not otherwise?’ Finally the ‘representative’ phase is ‘the putting into literary or written form of discourse offered to the readers of history’ (2004, p. 137). (Marche 2015: 276)

Then we get to one of the key – for me- points – why people ‘walk away’-

“Interestingly, in his study of social movements disaffiliation, political scientist Fillieule relies on the symbolic interactionist notion of careers – as defined by Hughes and Becker – to appreciate why and how disengagement makes sense in social actors’ life cycles:

Applied to political commitment, the notion of career allows us to understand how, at each biographical stage, the attitudes and behaviours of activists are determined by past attitudes and behaviours, which in turn condition the range of future possibilities, thus resituating commitment across the entire life cycle.” (Fillieule, 2010, p. 11)

(Marche, 2015: 281)

The Fillieule reference, which I am gonna track down and defo read is – Fillieule, O. (2010). Some elements of an interactionist approach to political disengagement. Social Movement Studies, 9(1), 1–15.

Marche, Guillaume,(2017). Political memoirs and intimate confessions: Analysing four US gay liberation/gay rights militants’ memoirs. Sexualities, Vol. 20(8) 959–980

Marche is covering the same turf – the same four autobiographies – but with a slightly different angle.  He talks usefully about Bourdieu’s “biographical illusion”-

“In 1986, Pierre Bourdieu famously warned sociologists against the risk of a ‘biographical illusion’, claiming that the misleading immediacy of individual life-stories might conjure away the objective structures in which social agents negotiate their destinies (Bourdieu, 2004). Heeding Bourdieu’s warning, proponents of the biographical method of sociology study how individual life-trajectories construct themselves at the intersection between structural constraints and subjective choices (Bessin, 2009; Fillieule and Mayer, 2001; Passeron, 1990).” (Marche, 2017: 960)

and then there’s this –

Roseneil et al. apply the biographical-narrative interpretive method to their corpus of 67 interviews. They identify five types of narrative of intimate citizenship: ‘narratives of self-realization and authenticity’, ‘narratives of struggle’, ‘narratives of unfulfilment or failure’, ‘conventional narratives’, and ‘narratives of oppression’ (Roseneil et al., 2012: 52). (Marche, 2017: 971)

which might be another way of categorising/typologising. If it is what we are trying to do???

Ideas worth tracking down/playing with

  • Klandermans (2004) distinguishes three fundamental motives to participate in social movements: instrumentality— someone wants to change a social or political state of affairs; identity —someone wants to engage with like-minded others; and ideology —someone wants to express a view.
  • Learning vs “learning about” (visceral, transformative vs Gradgrind/fact collection) Bion (though this may not be close enough to what I am supposed to be doing to fit in!
  • Merton’s discussion of `sociological autobiography’, (see Stanley, L. (1993) On auto/biography in sociology. Sociology 27(1): 41–52.)  See also “Merton says that the ‘sociological autobiography‘ uses sociological ideas, procedures and perspectives to form and interpret our own lives – but crucially within a wider history and contemporary society; in this way our own inner lives can be related to more extensive concerns and changes.” – (Roberts, 2002)

 

Reading list to track down (the volume of the sphere and all that)

Andrews, Molly. 1991. Lifetimes of commitment. Aging, politics, psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

“This book is an exploration of the ways in which political belief is developed and sustained throughout the course of a lifetime. Through extensive interviews, it focuses on the lives of fifteen British men and women, aged between seventy and ninety, who have dedicated half a century or longer to working for social change and justice. From Dorothy Greenald’s commitment to provision of adequate housing for prisoners’ families to Walter Gregory’s active service in the Spanish Civil War and Trevor Huddleston’s vital role in the international Anti-Apartheid Movement, these men and women have been involved in both local and international struggles. Respondents discuss topics ranging from the importance of gender identity for their political activism, to their perceptions of recent events in Eastern Europe. The work is unusual in combining an investigation of individual lifelong political commitment with a wider consideration of the formation of social identity, aging and the interplay between individuals and their environment. Lifetimes of commitment will have a wide appeal amongst social psychologists, sociologists, social and oral historians and political scientists.”

Armstrong E (2006) Movements and memory: The making of the Stonewall myth. American Sociological Review 71(5): 724–751.

Bion, W.R. 1959. Attacks on linking. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 40: 308–15.

Egri, Carolyn P., and David A. Ralston. ‘Generation Cohorts and Personal Values: A Comparison of China and the U.S.’ Organization Science 15.2 (2004): 210 20.

Fosl C (2008) Anne Braden, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Rigoberta Menchu. Using personal narrative to build activist movements. In: Solinger R, Fox M and Irani K (eds) Telling Stories to Change the World. Global Voices on the Power of Narrative to Build Community and Make Social Justice Claims. London: Routledge, pp. 217–226.

Klandermans, Bert. 2004. The demand and supply of participation: Social psychological correlates of participation in a social movement. In Blackwell companion to social movements, edited by David A. Snow, Sarah Soule, and Hanspeter Kriesi, 360-79. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lénárt-Cheng H and Walker D (2011) Using life stories for social and political activism. Biography 34(1): 141–179.

Lewis, David. ‘Using Life Histories in Social Policy Research: The Case of Third Sector/ Public Sector Boundary Crossing.’ Journal of Social Policy 37.4 (2008): 1-20.

Passeron, J.-C. (1990). Biographies, flux, itinéraires, trajectoires. Revue Francaise de Sociologie, 31, 3–22.

Perkins, M. V. (2000). Autobiography as activism: Three black women of the sixties. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press.

Polletta, F. (2006). It was like a fever: Storytelling in protest and politics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Roberts, Brian (2002) Sociological Lives and Auto/Biographical Writing. In: Narrative, Memory and Life Transitions. University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, pp. 163­170.

Roseneil S, Crowhurst I, Hellesund T, et al. (2012) Remaking intimate citizenship in multi-cultural Europe. Experiences outside the conventional family. In: Halsaa B, Roseneil S and Sumer S (eds) Remaking Citizenship in Multicultural Europe. Women’s Movements,Gender and Diversity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 41–69.

Spacks, Patricia Meyer. ‘Stages of Self: Notes on Autobiography and the Life Cycle.’ Autobiography: Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies. Boston University Journal 25 (1977). Ed. Trev Lynn Broughton. Vol. 1. London: Routledge, 2007: 199 212.

Stanley, L. (1993) On auto/biography in sociology. Sociology 27(1): 41–52.

Taylor J (2009) Rich sensitivities: An analysis of conflict among women in feminist memoir. Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue Canadienne de Sociologie 46(2): 123–141.

Truc, G. (2011). Narrative identity against biographical illusion: The shift in sociology from Bourdieu to Ricœur. Études Ricœuriennes/Ricœur Studies, 2, 150–167.

White, J. 2002. On ‘learning and learning about’: W.R. Bion’s theory of thinking and educational praxis. In The ship of thought: Essays on psychoanalysis and learning, Duncan Barford, 84–105. London: Karnac Books.

 

That lyric?  Paul Kelly on the need/effort to put the ‘facts’ together in a narrative that ‘works’. In writing of a man who has fucked up, and is now on a visit to his wife, and see his kids…

“Could he make a picture

And get them all to fit?”

Fwiw, has haunted me since the late 1980s, when I first heard it. We are things that need (to make) meaning.

One thought on “Activists and “narrative” – of academia, words and deeds. Oh, and Paul Kelly did it better

Add yours

  1. Oh yes, Marc — Paul Kelly. Poet/songwriter/philosopher. I’m in awe. To Her Door, yes, and How to Make Gravy, and and and.

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