Category Archives: Social Movement Learning

Online meetings as skeuomorphs – the old pathologies imported, affordances not afforded (cyber)space

If you suck at designing and facilitating meatspace meetings, then – everything else being equal – you are probably going to suck big hairy dog’s balls at online meetings.

Is it just me? (1) Am I the only one who has been in several really painfully bad online meetings during this lockdown?  Where the organisers clearly have given NO THOUGHT to what could or should be different. They’ve just shifted their dismal “in real life” formats over to Zoom. And guess what, they’re still dismal! Hoodathunkit?  But as long as the invited guest speakers get to treat everyone as ego-fodder, as long as the punters can feel they were close to Wisdom, or that they’re not losing touch, then everyone seems happy.

It’s as if the opportunities of online spaces (I’ll come back to them) are being very very consciously ignored.  There’s something skeuomorphic – the online meetings consciously replicating/signalling their continuity with the old formats which, well have nostalgia and soothe value (if not use value).

Why?  Again, trying to think systematically rather than continuing the Fundamental Attribution Error of ascribing cowardice/laziness/stupidity.

  • Most organisers are not familiar with what online meetings might offer
  • Most organisers are not willing to take the risk of innovating at the best of times, and right now, it’s not the best of times. (insert rant about fear eating the soul, helmet fires yadda yadda).
  • Most organisers are under no selection pressure to DO BETTER.  Any old crap will do at the minute (insert rant about the smugosphere) because most punters have never had better, and would be reluctant to demand it in these times when everyone is (understandably and rightly) cutting other folks lots of slack.

Okay, now I have got my tokenistic and  entirely abstract compassion tokens sorted: this.

DO BETTER, YOU FUCKERS.

At the least

  • Ask yourself: why gather people together for an hour and spend the first third of that asking them to, in effect, watch a youtube together? Srsly.  Have your speakers pre-record and upload their initial statements. That way they are not speaking off the cuff, they can be kept to time. Tell everyone to watch the damn things before. Most will, some won’t.
  • Be concise and clear in your opening statements. There is no excuse for waffling, and the consequences for it are HIGHER online, imo.
  • Encourage people to use the ‘chat’ function.  That is what it is there for (affordances schmafordances). This is NOT like a meatspace meeting where the chattering will be disruptive.  It’s an online meeting. Only Connect, as that old English dude said.
  • If you are going to go into breakout groups, then have the instructions for this  – what it is you are expecting each group to do – on a slide.
  • For any reporting back, ask the groups to make a slide of their own, rather than verbal feedback. People can read faster than they can listen.
  • Think about having a googledoc to which people can properly add comments in real time, reading suggestions etc.  The “chat with everyone” function is okay, but it is inaccessible once the meeting is over.  You can edit/polish the googledoc, before the rest of the world sees it, to remove anything libellous/confusing etc.
  • DO A POSTMORTEM. Ask people who leave early to tell you why they did.  Have a mechanism for everyone to give anonymous feedback (the only kind worth collecting.)
  • ITERATE> INNOVATE> ALWAYS IN BETA>  THIS IS THE WORLD WIDE WEB, PEOPLE.
  • Oh, and if your organisation is named after someone super super SUPER cool, but unjustly obscure, then explain who they are. The world really does need to know.

 

Yes, I am going to “put up”.  The group I am involved in is going to start to do more regular online meetings.  We will get things wrong, obvs. But at least we will be trying to actually use the technology in less grotesquely inadequate ways than I’ve described above. FFS.

 

Footnotes

(1) That’s a semi-rhetorical question. I know very few people who share my vocal, vehement, vivid disdain for suboptimal (“shitty”) meetings.  There should be more, but most people seem to shrug their shoulders and say ‘this is the way it’s always been’.  While calling for fundamental immediate transformations of our polity and economy. Go figure.

On the tribal barriers to cat-belling

Think in systems, dammit.

When I am frustrated (i.e. always) with the “left” endlessly reheating and repeating the same things (“wasn’t  1970s social democracy great?”, “the main problem is we don’t have enough diverse voices” (1) ) through truly wretched online events that are every bit as stultifying and wrist-slashingly excruciating as their meatspace equivalents, I often – through laziness and stupidity – ascribe the failures of others to laziness or stupidity.

But think in systems, dammit.

If you WERE to say, for example

“part of the problem we need to think about is that our shopping list of the ways the world ‘should’ be won’t get us there, but that people can gain and maintain status simply by repeating this shopping list.  They get brownie points for doing so, because we are so keen to hear their soothing words, and they are our bosses, and we are, ultimately, wanting to be saved by bosses.  We are like the sheep in Animal Farm, hoping for a better kind of pig, while still incanting the all animals are equal thing.”

Well, three things would happen

a) you’d open yourself up to criticism for having done your own shopping-list incanting in the past (and people rarely really like to open themselves up, unless they are particularly neurotic), and the fatal question “well, why should we listen to YOU then?”

b) you’d be implicitly (explicitly) rebuking your chums, including probably the people who organised this event and invited you to be on the panel (so, this might be your last panel for a while or -checks notes – for fucking EVER.)

c) you’d be implicitly (explicitly) rebuking those in the audience for having taken false comfort in shopping lists in the past.  They won’t thank you for that condemnation. Fur monkey may have no milk, but she’s got fur, fur goodness sake.   Life under ecocidal capitalism is already quite uncomfortable enough without some wannabe whistle-blower adding to it.  So, the questions will be hostile, the invites to speak at other events will dry up, your books won’t get read, your tweets won’t get retweeted. Siberia beckons.

So far so banal.  If a culture doesn’t have homeo-dynamic mechanisms for keeping within certain parameters, it’s not really a culture is it? Throw in some (rightful) righteous indignation and cognitive limitations (Kahneman Thinking Fast blah blah) and you’ve sort of explained why the key question of ‘what do we need to do DIFFERENTLY so that we have a chance of getting a different result?’ rarely gets answered (though often – as at a recent terrible-content, good-format/facilitation Zoom – gets asked.)

Somehow though, this isn’t satisfying me.  We “ought” to be better at this. We are supposed to be the ones who can challenge power. But do we use up all our courage and cortex in spotting the obvious, and then hunker down?  Do we find new tin gods to worship, and then let them rule us?

Or is it just so damn hard to think of ways that the incredibly embedded/entrenched/tooled-up status quo (that is endlessly capable of adapting/defending itself – T1000, not T800) could be defeated, that we retreat into soothing lullabies and never face any real challenge from the audience to sing a different song?

I will try, for what it is worth, to

a) have more compassion for those with nothing to say who say it at great length and to relatively great acclaim

b) understand the dynamics/incentives that keep them in place, and keep them from actually trying to answer the ‘who will bell the cat?’ question

c) provide clear cat-belling ideas and then implement them as best I can at a local level

d) obey the Cocker Protocol, in these dark, nay, shitty days

 

Footnotes

(1) For the sake of clarity: I am not – of course –  disputing that we need more diverse voices. What I am disputing is that if they are saying the same banal and info-deficit things that the middle class white men are saying, we (collectively) are not actually any further ahead. And I would very much like us to be collectively further ahead.

6 articles in search of an author to write about them

The tl:dr – six more articles, each with something of use for scholars or activists (and sometimes, for both). You should know the drill by now (one, two, three).

Edwards G (2008) ‘The Lifeworld’ as a resource for social movement participation and the consequences of its colonization. Sociology 42(2): 299–316.

Horton, J., & Kraftl, P. (2009). Small acts, kind words and ‘not too much fuss’: Implicit activisms. Emotion Space and Society, 2, 14–23.

Jones, A. (2017). Housing choices in later life as unclaimed forms of housing activism. Contemporary Social Science, 12(1–2). doi:10.1080/21582041.2017.1334127

King DS (2006) Activists and emotional reflexivity: Toward Touraine’s subject as social movement. Sociology 40(5): 873–891.

McAdam, D. (1992) Gender as a mediator of the activist experience: the case of Freedom Summer, American Journal of Sociology, 97(5), pp. 1211–1240.

McPherson, J. M. (1983) An ecology of affiliation, American Sociological Review, 48(4), pp. 519 –532.

 

Edwards (2008:299) writes

“Social networks, collective identities, and cultural formations have been seen as key resources shaping participation in social movements. These three types of resources map on to what Habermas calls ‘the lifeworld’: society, personality, and culture. Combining theoretical and empirical observations, I look at how the lifeworld can be viewed as a resource for social movement participation, and the consequences of its colonization. I … argue that the colonization of schools results in an erosion of ‘lifeworld resources’ necessary for the mobilization of trade unionists in the current UK context.”

This she did via interviews with trades unionists, some of whom get misty-eyed about ‘the good old days’ of mass meetings (without ever seeming to reflect on the ego-foddering).  There’s useful stuff on Habermas/Mead –

“Habermas is arguing that the ‘intersubjective coordination of actions’ relies upon ‘membership in social groups’ and the ‘integration of those same groups’, as well as upon shared stocks of cultural knowledge (p. 137). In turn, participation in interaction, as Mead pointed out, socializes younger members into the values of the group and provides them with ‘capacities for action’ within it (Habermas, 1987: 137).”

(Edwards, 2008:303)

and the importance of having a picture when you can get them all to fit…

“Drawing upon past memories meant that these members could place the current issues of membership non-participation in historical context, seeing them as part of the ‘ebbs and flows’ that, as Tarrow (1998) argues, mark any movement’s trajectory. The memories of the movement do not have to remain solely for those who were involved, however. Through communicative interaction, they can be shared collectively amongst union members in the present context.

“They can provide a collective, as well as personal, pool of cultural resources which can be drawn upon by members in times of abeyance. Habermas himself saw the importance of collective memories for social movements, arguing that without symbolic representation of past struggles, the sacrifices involved are not only lost, but those who come later ‘can have no idea of who they are’ (1986: 139–40).”

(Edwards, 311-312)

There’s good stuff in here on a survey of why people don’t attend meetings (nobody volunteers ‘because they are crap/an opportunity for the elites to treat everyone else like ego-fodder/a rubber-stamp for what is already decided’).

shite meetings edwards 2008

Ultimately though, nobody seems to admit that the “left” is pretty good at colonising its own bleeding lifeworld, without much help from the usual suspects. So it goes.

Horton & Kraftl, (2009) are out to screw with your idea of what an “activist” is. They write

“Social scientists’ accounts of ‘activism’ have too often tended to foreground and romanticise the grandiose, the iconic, and the unquestionably meaningful, to the exclusion of different kinds of ‘activism’. Thus, while there is a rich social-scientific literature chronicling a social history of insurrectionary protests and key figures/thinkers, we suggest that there is more to ‘activism’ (and there are more kinds of ‘activism’) than this. In short, we argue that much can be learnt from what we term implicit activisms which – being small-scale, personal, quotidian and proceeding with little fanfare – have typically gone uncharted in social-scientific understanding of ‘activism’…..

“We suggest that these interviews extend and unsettle many social-scientific accounts of ‘activism’ in three key senses. First: in evoking the specific kinds of everyday, personal, affective bonds which lead people to care. Second: in evoking the kinds of small acts, words and gestures which can instigate and reciprocate/reproduce such care. And third: in suggesting how such everyday, affective bonds and acts can ultimately constitute political activism and commitment, albeit of a kind which seeks to proceed with ‘not too much fuss’.

(Horton & Kraftl,2009:14)

This is a stonkingly good overview, and has lots of numbered lists (I am a sucker for these) like these two –

Rather than viewing particular emotions (such as anger) as a ‘resource’ for activism, or an outcome of particular activist practices, we demonstrate how constellations of feeling may, sometimes, spill over into activist tendencies that are quite unanticipated and un-planned (as noted by Martin et al., 2007).

i) A tendency to prioritise actions which are dramatic, iconic, totemic, ‘‘glamorous and heroic’’ (Pile and Keith, 1997: xi), even ‘‘salvational’’ (Lyman, 1995: 397).

ii) A tendency to prioritise actions which leave a readily-representable legacy….

iii) A tendency to orient accounts of activism around key events or actions (see also point viii), and/or around the agency of key leaders, thinkers or ideologues. Such an approach has often had the effect of problematically over-simplifying the complex, contingent contexts, temporalities and causal happenings which produce(d) such events (McCarthy and McMillan, 2003)….

iv) A tendency to focus, almost exclusively, upon activism which is explicitly linked to broader social movements and/or ‘-isms’ (see della Porta and Diani, 1999; Scott, 1990)….

v) A tendency to understand activism – and/or being activist – as an unconditional state: an identity, mindset, standpoint or self-aware commitment. Thus, there is a tendency to overlook the complex, ambiguous blurrings and (dis)connections between any individual’s ‘activism’ and everyday life (as critiqued by Brown, 2007; Pickerill and Chatterton, 2006), and indeed to assume and sustain this ‘between’, despite efforts to move beyond this position (Anderson, 2004)….

vi) A tendency to (re)produce a particular understanding of power, a particular version of resistance and, therefore, a particular politics. A tendency to over-simplify assumptions about political power and resistance – most often manifest as an implicit model of ‘‘resistance in implacable opposition to ‘power’’’ (Pile, 1997: 1) – has been widely criticised….. A related habit is a tendency to be cautious, and somewhat exclusionary, in delimiting what counts as resistance or activism. As Pile (1997: 14–15) suggests,

‘‘[p]otentially, the list of acts of resistance is endless – everything from foot-dragging to walking, from sit-ins to outings, from chaining oneself up in tree-tops to dancing the night away, [etc.,]. Here, of course, lies a problem: if resistance can be found in the tiniest act – a single look, a scratch in a desk – then how is resistance to be identified as a distinctive practice?’’ (our parentheses).

Pile (1997) and Thrift (1997, 2000) suggest that many social scientists have tended to reconcile this latter problem by implicitly limiting considerations of ‘resistance’ to those forms of deliberate, agentic activism which (most often as part of a social movement) explicitly address major, unequivocal contemporary societal ills. But surely, they imply, there is more to activism – and there are more kinds of activism – than this? For example, in their discussion of women’s activism, Martin et al. (2007) provide several indications that there are. They discuss how what we term ‘implicit activisms’ in this paper are fostered (sometimes unintentionally) via contingent, everyday practices that often – at first glance – look little like either oppositional kinds of resistance, or deliberate, agentic activism.

 

I am still unconvinced (but then again, may not have read them carefully enough): surely activism can/must be thought of/defined dialectically – if you’re not on the radar as a potential threat, then it might still be activism, but rather than implicit is it not irrelevant? (the Man don’t need your love)

Then again, they are clearly smart cookies, and have done some serious thinking –

In closing, we want to complicate our two-fold theorisation of the relationship between emotion and activism by tentatively sketching a conceptual framework for further forays into implicit activisms. From our empirical analysis and critical reading of activist literatures, we discern seven styles or modes of being which distinguish implicit activisms of the kind witnessed in this paper from those more commonly cited by social scientists. In so doing, we seek to emphasise the differences between ‘implicit activisms’ and ‘other activisms’; but this schema is not to be read as a totalising attempt to foreclose alternative explanations of activism. The following points are one way in to the messiness of implicit activisms, not a way out.

First, implicit activisms are often modest. In distinction to ‘glamorous’ or spectacular forms of activism (Carter, 2005; Pile and Keith, 1997), the moments and movements entailed in reaching out to non-users of the Sure Start Centre are virtually indistinguishable from the types of caring that proceed at the Centre on a daily basis.

Second, implicit activisms often leave little (representational) trace.

Third, implicit activisms are often non-totemic. Many accounts of activism are orientated around ‘key’ figures: events, thinkers or actions (see, for instance, Zeilig and Ansell, 2008). Contrastingly, Sure Start activisms did not (yet) organise themselves around any ‘key’ figures or leader.

Fourth, implicit activisms are often tenuously connected to philosophical positions (or –isms).

Fifth, implicit activisms do not often constitute an identity.

Sixth, implicit activisms often scramble the power relations involved in activism. Whilst many social-scientific accounts of activism focus upon interrogating (or dismantling) the power/ resistance couplet, the absence of any overt, active kinds of resistance at Sure Start demands an exploration of what else might be constituted by activism vis-à-vis ‘power’.

Seventh, implicit activisms are often conditional. Activism is traditionally viewed as a straightforwardly intentional act directed towards a particular end. Understood in this way, emotions either become resources for activism, or conceived as more-or-less significant components of activism-in-practice. Yet,we are not sure that it is always so easy to discern precisely where activism comes from, and ends.

Need to chew on this (i.e. re-read and think about more carefully.)  What IS activism?  Who “counts” as an activist? Says who? on what basis? With what consequences (political, empirical etc)

Jones(2017) is raiding broader research, honing in on two particular interviews. Her concerns are similar to those of Horton and Kraftl-

“Analyses of social movements continue to talk of successful strategies and ‘famous activists’ (Goodwin & Jasper, 2014) and banner-waving on the streets is a common image of activism. Certain forms of housing activism, such as campaigns to defend social housing in London, are being rightfully made more visible through academic engagement with community groups and journalistic exposure (Minton, 2012; Watt & Minton, 2016) and new alliances are being made all the time as the housing crisis in London deepens (Humphry, 2016).

However, such visible forms of organised activism contrast with quieter acts of resistance. In Interview 4’s housing pathway, domestic parenting responsibilities were inter-woven with her politics and it was impossible to disentangle these from her agential housing choices. Such domestic responsibilities have been neglected as spheres in which political and housing activism takes place (Brickell, 2012a). Brickell has argued for recognition of activism in the private domain of the home rather than just in the public domain (Brickell, 2012b, 2014).”

(Jones, 2017: xx)

 

King  (2006) is similar to Jones – honing in on a couple of people interviewed as part of a broader project, in this case the whole ‘co-counselling’/re-evaluation counselling thing, popular in some circles. King’s dataset is Australian peaceniks.  She’s using Touraine (one of the grand old men of New Social Movements) and his ‘de-integration’ schtick (punching holes in the walls of reality, and using the bricks for … better purposes…)

For Touraine, the Subject is late modernity’s agent of change. Capable of actively producing society, this Subject constructs itself and exists in the space between social integration and deintegration, what Touraine calls commitment and non-commitment (1995: 282–6). Thus while it is recognized that the Subject exists within a plethora of discourses and structures which influence the ways in which they become integrated into society, the process of de-integration is seen as essential if the subject is to develop a ‘will to act and to be recognized as an actor’ (1995: 207). Without deintegration, individuals would simply be caught in the web of discourses and social structures that merely reproduce society.

(King, 2006: 874)

There’s a nice lit review on emotions in social movements –

“The salience of emotions to social activism is being increasingly recognized (Aminzade and McAdam, 2002; Goodwin et al., 2000, 2001; Melucci, 1996). Within this area, the social constructivist view of emotions (Armon-Jones, 1986; Harre, 1986) has been applied to social movements to examine the relevance of concepts such as emotion culture (Taylor, 2000; Taylor and Rupp, 2002), emotional achievement (Yang, 2000), emotional habitus (Calhoun, 2001), emotional labour (Groves, 1995) and emotion work (Gould, 2002; Perry, 2002). From these studies it is evident that the ways in which emotions are constructed, managed, manipulated and reconstructed are important for understanding patterns of engagement in social movements by activists. In this article, I argue that activists also engage in practices of emotional reflexivity, and that these practices enable them to both sustain their activism and act creatively in producing society.”

(King, 2006:876)

and a critique of dick-swinging (though self-martyrdom in other forms doesn’t get so much of a look in)

There’s a real culture of activism that lines up with the masculine culture of not feeling anything, not needing to feel anything, being strong, being tough and being committed. That you don’t feel anything or at least, if you do, you don’t show it … In fact, in the social change circles that I move in, the idea that soft, fluffy, squishy stuff like talking about feelings has ABSOLUTELY no place in the movement, is very prevalent … You know, if you have that idea that toughness is what makes you a good activist then counselling is something that you wouldn’t do unless dragged there on your deathbed.

(King, 2006:880-81)

Then there is this, which I think is bang on the money and I am clearly gonna have to read Elliott, albeit 25 years late…

Elliott argues that for people to acquire a radical imagination it becomes ‘increasingly necessary to tolerate and reflect upon emotional states of uncertainty generated by the cultural conditions of the late modern age’ (1996: 29) to the extent that uncertainty becomes a positive dynamic:

Some unknown aspect of one’s own reality needs to be discovered, and this implies putting on hold what it is we think we actually know about ourselves, other people and the social world. Working these unknown aspects of our feelings and experiences through can lead to a greater capacity for confronting otherness, at once personal and political … Here, the capacity to tolerate the unknown, to ‘go with’ uncertainty, is vital to thoughtfulness and critical questioning. (Elliott, 1996: 154)

However, working through these unknown aspects of feelings and experiences means recognizing that social norms and expectations are located in the transmission of affect which underlies the process of meaning construction (Elliott, 1996: 25). It is, then, these emotional states of uncertainty that form the core of Elliott’s view of reflexivity. Anxiety, hate, love, anger, fear, guilt, shame and desire are analysed as ways in which the self–other boundary is structured and dislocated. From Elliott’s perspective, reflexivity requires the conceptualization of these affects in terms of a dialectical interplay between depressive and paranoid-schizoid 17 modes of subjectivity and intersubjectivity which, he argues, underlie transformations of social, cultural and political life (1996:75–7). The interplay and shifts between these two modes enable a more creative reflexivity to emerge.

(King, 2006:887)

McAdam (1992) is writing about something he knows really really well – the Freedom Summer of 1964 and its consequences. Turns out (and I hope you’re sitting down), women had to be twice as good (committed/’pure’) to be half as likely to get selected to volunteer.  And at the time, before second wave feminism kicked in, they didn’t have the language to name what was going on so well.  This is a CRUCIAL article for understanding how filters in activism play out, imo.  There’s lots of good stuff, but for now, this – on the long term consequences-

“For many, Freedom Summer came to be the event around which they reconstructed their biographies in “before” and “after” fashion. This was no less true for the male than the female volunteers. But the development and application of a feminist perspective on Freedom Summer in the years following the project has helped sustain the perceived importance of the project for women in a way that nothing has for the male volunteers. Let me explore this dynamic in a bit more detail. At the close of the summer, the majority of volunteers-female no less than male-viewed themselves as “movement people.” First and foremost this meant the civil rights movement, though many also were clearly attuned and sympathetic to the emerging student and antiwar movements. Indeed, they viewed these as one and the same struggle (McAdam 1988, pp. 162-78). Freedom Summer, then, loomed large in the volunteers’ accounts of how they became “movement people.” But the expulsion of whites from the civil rights movement and the gradual dissolution of the radical left in the early 1970s slowly eroded the salience of the designation “movement person.” As that identity became more tenuous, so too did the importance of Freedom Summer as the pivotal event in the volunteers’ reconstructed biographies.

But this dilemma was much more acute for the male volunteers. The rise of the women’s liberation movement served to provide most of the female volunteers with a highly salient new identity-that of feminist- around which their biographies could once again be recast.

(McAdam, 1992:1224)

McPherson  (1983) is unlike the others here, but also crucial (i.e. it is great back up for something I keep banging on about – thinking of organisations within a (so-called) movement as parts of an eco-system.

“This paper develops an ecological model of the competition of social organizations for members. The concept of the ecological niche is quantified explicitly in a way which ties together geography, time, and the social composition of organizations. A differential equation model analogous to the Lotka-Volterra competition equations in biology captures the dynamics of the system. This dynamic model is related to the niche concept in a novel way, which produces an easily understood and powerful picture of the static and dynamic structure of the community”

(McPherson,1983: 519)

But it never gets all sociobiological, thank goodness

A population of organizations, then, is not a set of discrete creatures who must mate with each other to reproduce, but a froth of bubbles, constantly sharing or exchanging members, growing and dying, and being absorbed and segmented in response to changing conditions. Yet, like animals, organizations must compete with each other for resources. An extremely important resource for which organizations compete is their members.1 This paper will develop a simple but powerful model of the competition of social organizations for members.

(McPherson,1983: 520)

There’s also good stuff on the difference between fundamental and realized niches.

Ecologists distinguish between fundamental and realized niches, which refer to niches formed in non-competitive and competitive situations, respectively (Morse, 1980). The fundamental niche is the niche which could be exploited by the species if there were no competitors. This niche can only be changed through genetic mechanisms. The realized niche can change with the presence or absence of a given competitor.

It’s a very well-cited paper, and you can see why – it’s clear, compelling and important in its implications for how to think about how SMOs/NGOs etc are competing for a (de facto) finite number of supporters/players, while MOST of them are simply not going to get involved (compare the Edwards meetings paper).

 

Particularly useful stuff for activists (concepts, anecdotes)

  • Habermas and the lifeworld (and its colonisiation)
  • The very meaning of “activism”
  • Sexism
  • Competition for scarce resources

Books and articles I should get around to reading and digesting

Aminzade, R. and D. McAdam (2002) ‘Introduction: Emotions and Contentious Politics’, Mobilization: An International Journal 7(2): 1–5.

Anderson, J., 2004. The ties that bind? Self- and place- identity in environmental direction action. Ethics, Place and Environment 7, 45–57.

Andrews, M. (2014). What is narrative interviewing? Retrieved from http://www.ncrm.ac.uk/resources/video/RMF2012/whatis.php?id=b6235e4

Diani, M. (1990) ‘The Network Structure of the Italian Ecology Movement’, Social Science Information 29(1): 5–31.

Diani, M. (2003) ‘Leaders or Brokers? Position and Influence in Social Movement Networks’, in M. Diani and D. McAdam (eds) Social Movements and Social Networks, pp. 105–20. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Elliott, A. (1996) Subject to Ourselves: Social Theory, Psychoanalysis and Postmodernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Freeman, Jo. 1973. “Origins of the Women’s Liberation Movement.” American Journal of Sociology 78:792-811.

Goodwin, J., J.M. Jasper and F. Polletta (2000) ‘The Return of the Repressed: The Fall and Rise of Emotions in Social Movement Theory’, Mobilization: An International Journal 5(1): 65–84.

Griffin, C., 2008. Protest practice and (tree) cultures of conflict: understanding the spaces of ‘tree maiming’ in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40, 91–108

Kurtz, H., 2005. Reflections on the iconography of environmental justice activism. Area 37, 79–88.

Martin, D., Hanson, S., Fontaine, D., 2007. What counts as activism? The role of individuals in creating change. Women’s Studies Quarterly 25, 78–94.

Martin, W. (2007). Embodying ‘active’ ageing: Bodies, emotions and risk in later life. Sociology.

Maxey, I., 1999. Beyond boundaries? activism, academia, reflexivity and research. Area 31, 195–198.

Oliver, Pamela. 1984. “If You Don’t Do It, Nobody Will. Active and Token Contributors to Local Collective Action.” American Sociological Review 49:601-10.

Oliver, Pamela, Gerald Marwell, and Ruy Teixeira. 1985. “A Theory of the Critical Mass I: Interdependence, Group Heterogeneity, and the Production of Collective Goods.” American Journal of Sociology 91:522-56.

Perry, E.J. (2002) ‘Moving the Masses: Emotion Work in the Chinese Revolution’, Mobilization: An International Journal 7(2): 111–28.

Snow, David A., Louis A. Zurcher, Jr., and Sheldon Ekland-Olson. 1980. “Social Networks and Social Movements: A Microstructural Approach to Differential Recruitment.” American Sociological Review 45 (5): 787-801.

Watt, P. (2016). A nomadic war machine in the metropolis: En/countering London’s 21st-century housing crisis with focus E15. City, 20, 297–320.

30 mins at a meeting’s outset tell you EVERYTHING. Also, crap plenaries…

There are other blog posts I need to write.

A review of an extraordinary book about Norfolk, the Stone Age, incumbency, patriarchy and sociotechnical transitions (no, seriously it’s all that and more. Staggeringly good))

Something about the intellectual work behind the job I just was interviewed for (accelerating sociotechnical transitions. Or sociomaterial transitions – or something in between)

Something about ‘you can’t blow up a social relationship’ – a bunch of novels I’ve read recently or a long time ago about ill-fated adventures in violent resistance (a 1970s genre of fiction, not all of it pulp)

But for now, I have Something To Get Off My Chest (as usual)

FOR FUCKS SAKE CAN WE PLEASE BE LESS FUCKING SHIT?? (okay, okay, I will tone this down now, given potential future and future potential bosses have checked out this site),.

So, sweet- natured version.

“Progressive social movement organisations may possibly benefit from some reflection on long-standing methods of organising and holding meetings”

So, here’s the ranty bit about the first 30 minutes of meetings

You can tell how a meeting, (and quite probably the campaign it is ‘part’ of will go) from the 15 minutes either side of the start.

If the answer to many of the following questions is “no”,  then time and energy are being spaffed against the wall.

Have people been given the option of wearing name badges and badges that say broadly where they are from, to help make it easier for other people to cross the first hurdle and speak to them?

Is there a notice up on the powerpoint saying “a big part of today is you getting to meet other people you don’t already know, to thicken the networks on which a movement sits.  Please do talk to strangers!”

Is it clear where the toilets are, the coffee/tea etc?

Opening speeches/announcements

  • Is there a clear “thank you for coming” and a repeated encouragement (perhaps even two minutes of doing it) to talk with someone you don’t know?
  • Has provision been made for people who would like to come but couldn’t (e.g. livestreaming of opening speeches, some sort of online interaction (a hashtag at least)
  • Is the opening introduction clear and concise and high energy?
  • Is the opening speech – if there is one – full of things that those attending DON’T already know/agree with?
  • Is there an opportunity for at least a couple of questions to the opening speaker, so the tone is set for, you know, discussion?  Is that opportunity after people have had a chance to talk with someone else to hone their question (if not, the usual suspects’ hands will go straight up)
  • Is it clear – crystal clear – what the purposes of the day are, from the opening introductions and the first speech?

So, here’s the ranty bit about plenary sessions. Also if the answer is no…

  • Has the reporting back from break out sessions been carefully designed (or, if you must “curated”), with clear time limits?   (Reporting back meaningfully from breakouts sessions is a skill. Most people do not possess that skill at all, or at the level required for it to be meaningful. In the absence of that skill, and of a time constraint, the report-backers will blather and foreground their own (organisational/emotional) needs. This will drain energy  from the room and credibility from the process, simultaneously.)
  • Have the announcements of upcoming events been carefully thought through, and a way of avoiding rants devised and implemented?  (If you really want concise comments, especially about upcoming events, have a ‘hand in details’ form, which can be entered on a powerpoint and flashed up for all to see.  Again, no time limit is going to mean some very long, rambling and energy-sapping and credibility destroying speechifying).

Oh, and sidebar – the emotacycle will get us all killed.

The answers to most of these questions, at most of the events I go to is “no”. Which is why I don’t stick around.  The number of months we have before the shit properly hits the fan is more finite than we want to admit – it’s later than you think.  So, why waste time at time-wasting and morale-destroying meetings.

What’s that you say?  I sound down on the “Left”?  Why, yes, yes I do, don’t I.

What’s that?  Am I a Daily Mail reader?  No, but I can see why you would need to believe that, since I am traipsing all over your tribe’s culture, and there is an implicit rebuke in this to you for tolerating crap culture in your subculture for so long.

Fwiw, I have raised these issues REPEATEDLY.  Both unhelpfully, but also as helpfully as I know how. You can, on a good day, get individual “organisers” to agree with bits and pieces.  But when time comes for them to innovate, to push past the resistance of their colleagues to any deviation from The Way Things Have Always Been Done, they bottle it. They lack either the skills or the spine – or both – to make things any different.  So it goes.

 

Why does nothing change, will nothing change?
Because the success or failure of one meeting doesn’t register for those who are making the decisions about it and future meetings, because those people are a tight-ish band of long-term/baked on activists, who will keep doing what they do. They lack the insight into what behaviours really put off newcomers, or have the insight but are unwilling to innovate the format of meetings because. well, lots of reasons.  Nobody else is going to be able to do a sustained change of format – the incumbents will have to do the disrupting, and everything we know about incumbents is that them doing disrupting is pretty damn rare.

So, we’re doomed. So it goes. It didn’t have to be this way, but it is, so suck it up.

 

 

Asking the wrong people the wrong questions in the wrong way: WW2 bombers and social movements

Those who know me will put two and two together, but the rest of you can wonder why and what.

This.

There’s a story about the beginnings of Operations Research, I think from De Landa’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, which goes like this:

trying to figure out what bits of bombers required (heavy and therefore necessarily scarce) reinforcement, the people assessing would look at planes which came back from hitting German targets, see where all the holes in the fuselage/wings were and say “reinforce the bits with the most holes.

No.  No, that’s wrong.  Because the planes that made it back, with that damage, were the ones that were still flying, by definition.  Those bits full of holes were precisely the bits that did NOT need reinforcing.  But it’s hard to look at planes that got hit in their weak spots and went down in flames, them being in thousands of pieces in Nazi Germany and all.

Fortunately, the mistake was seen, the right bits reinforced and We Won the War.

 

So, when I see an excruciating survey, full of the wrong questions, being aimed at people who are STILL INVOLVED, I weep.  Because nowhere does it ask “do you know anyone who is no longer coming? Did they tell you why they stopped coming?  If not, could you ask them to tell you, anonymously?”

THEN we might be looking at the right bits of the shot-down planes.

But that would open up a different can of worms, and quite a squidgy one. And require a level of emotional intelligence that is lacking. Has always been lacking, not just from this particular iteration.
We are just not smart enough. Or we are smart enough – on our good days – but simply not BRAVE enough.

Whatever it is, we are toast.

 

 

A year from now… aka The Glasgow Shitshow #COP26 #socialmovements

Right now there’s a lot of politicians flapping their meat in Madrid, at the 25th “Conference of the Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Late next year they will be flapping their meat in Glasgow. It will be the first COP to be held in the UK (though there was 1994’s “Global Forum – of that, more later).

And what will the build-up to the Glasgow COP allow (or “afford” if you do all that ANT hand-wavy stuff)?  It will allow groups to forget their differences (internal, external), their failures, their inability to do local capacity-building, their aimlessness.  It will allow them to put on a series of feeder events for the mother of all emotacycles – a big set-piece climate conference in the UK (I’m assuming indyref2 can’t happen by next November).

The whole thing is deja vu all over again, for those of us with memories stretching back to 2009.  Then – after 3 exhausting years – climate groups decided that a “big” march in London with some bumbling on to the COP in Copenhagen (“last chance to save the world, TM”)  would “build a mass movement… international this… solidarity that”  (my memory may be playing tricks, but I don’t think the words “decolonising” and “inter-sectional” were thrown around so much).

So, I have made a graphic, and there are other things afoot.

glasgow shitshow

 

Not because I expect to change a single soul’s mind, but so I can say “I told you so” in March 2021, when the fallout is at its most clearly radioactive.  Schadenfreude is a dish best served… in advance…

 

 

 

 

Sequential Consensual Autophagous Meetings

First I will treat you as ego-fodder.  You will sit in rows, or in a circle,and you will listen to me drone on and on about my hobby-horse du jour.

I don’t care what you know about the topic.

I don’t want to take time away from hearing my own voice to hear your perspectives.

I don’t care about you getting to know the other people in the room

I don’t want to take time away from hearing my own voice for you to build networks

Why do I want this?  Because I am Important, dammit.  I may not have had all the adulation and obedience that I should have had. But that is because I am a Dissident, and a Rebel.

But I have you all here now, and You. Will. Listen. To. Me.  In this “workshop.” That’s a new definition, by the way, of “workshop.” Do you like it? Say yes. If you don’t, well, I don’t care.

But I am not a monster. Of course I am not a monster.  Am I? I understand that having used you all, you – well, one or two of you perhaps – might then expect to use me and the rest of you in a similar way. Without my insight, my brilliance, it’s true. So the most of us, and even me-  because I am not a monster, am I – will sit in rows or in a circle and we will listen to one or two you drone on and on about your hobby-horse du jour. Fair is fair, after all.

Not all of you, that would be impossible. No, just perhaps three or five or so other people who are also FOTO-genic.   Friends Of The Organisers, that is. We will run the day as a series of sequential “consensual” autophagous meetings. Just don’t think too hard about the acronym there, okay?

You don’t know what autophagous means? Oh dear. Perhaps you didn’t go to a good school? Perhaps you did not take your own education in hand, as I have? Perhaps you could reflect on how this might mean that rather than being one of the important people, who talks, you are merely one of those who is allowed to listen. But fear not, they also serve who only sit and listen. But since you’re not very well-educated, you probably don’t even get that particular bon mot? I should not cast my pearls of wisdom before such swine.

You see, by sitting there, by OBEY-ing, provide proof to the important people, like me, that we are important, that our hobby-horses are not old nags, but thoroughbreds.


Where was I? Autophagous….  It means an entity that eats itself.  Self-cannibalism. It’s like that Stephen King short story – Survivor Type.

And in order to do the important things – namely for me to feel important – we have to perpetuate social movement failure. We have to keep doing meetings where new – or actually often old, half-baked –  ideas come from the front. From the FOTO-genics. And we will not do good meeting design. And we will not do facilitation in any meaningful way. For if that were to be done, well, it would detract from my opportunities to use you to boost, albeit fleetingly, my self-importance. 

That new people are bored, so what? That they don’t come back and they tell other potential members that at the meeting they went to they were bored, patronised, their input neither sought nor welcome? So what. That after a while the meetings, conferences get smaller and wink out of existence? That the campaign has in effect eaten itself, to meet the insatiable appetites for attention by the FOTO-genics?  That when the issue next exercises the public, new “organisations”, bereft of experience, competence, innovation, repeat the same ghastly repertoires? So so what?

For, you see, this is a balance, a difficult decision.  All of those minor, even trivial downsides, compared to me feeling important for 55 minutes. As Madeleine Albright said when asked about the sanctions on Iraq costing the lives of half a million children – “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”