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In Other People’s Struggles, I argue that existing theories have neither satisfactorily explained what motivates adherents – participants in a social movement who are not motivated as beneficiaries – nor considered the consequent dilemmas their participation creates. I also offer my own account of what motivates adherents, dominated by the moral obligations of conscience and disjoint norms of service, and explore the costs that dependency on those motivated in this way creates for the movement. Here I examine the range of problems movements might encounter in deciding whether to pay the costs of adherence.

One of the key claims I make in Other People’s Struggles is that these problems vary according to the orientation of the work the movement (or groups within it) undertakes. The orientation, to put it simply, concerns the direction in which the participants face. I distinguish between four orientations. The first – the power orientation – concerns the pursuit of interests in the outside world. The second – the expressive orientation – concerns the expression of identities and needs, to both internal and external audiences. The third orientation is the empowerment orientation. Here the participants face each other, seeking individual and mutual empowerment. The fourth orientation is the solidarity orientation, in which the participants seek to build the movement itself.

Each orientation, I argue, has its own characteristic set of dilemmas. When neglected interests are at issue, the dilemmas concern accountability. When the denial of self-expression is at issue, the dilemmas concern authenticity. When the issue is empowerment, the dilemmas concern agency, and when the issue is solidarity, the dilemmas concern belonging.

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In the power orientation, participants face external audiences, and their main activity is the definition and pursuit of interests. The important difference lies between constituents, who are those motivated by the desire that their interests be successfully defined and pursued, and adherents, who are motivated by the desire that the interests of others be successfully defined and pursued.


The main task in the pursuit of interests, in any modern setting, is representation. And the most significant dilemma with the use of adherents in the pursuit of others’ interests is accountability, that is, guaranteeing their reliability as representatives. Of course, problems of accountability can arise whoever is doing the representing. But the problems may be especially acute when the representative is an adherent. For example, some of the privileged roles adherents characteristically undertake for a social movement are hidden from the constituents’ sight while they are being performed, which makes it hard to monitor them. Other roles rely on the adherent’s possession of information that the constituents either cannot have, or which it would be inordinately costly for them to acquire for themselves. This might arise where adherents are supplying expert advice or inside knowledge of how a representative system works. Constituents may find it hard to judge easily how well such work is being done, especially if the criteria by which quality is judged are themselves set by adherents. Constituents suffering under historical disadvantage may lack the political resources they need to judge performance. Moreover, since adherents characteristically control more political resources than constituents, they can use these resources to deflect scrutiny and criticism, making them harder to control than those who are dependent in this regard on the constituents.


“Constituents who rely on adherents to lobby distant governments on their behalf may lack the capacity not only to lobby, but also to judge whether lobbying is well done by their representatives.”

There are various ways that constituents might seek to control an adherent who represents them. They might restrict her powers, or require her to seek permissions, or place her in a paid and contractual relationship with them. But all these are costly solutions, and they also create distance within the movement. A paid adherent, for example, may well be more reliable. But money also makes relationships colder and less personal. The paid adherent is ‘doing it for money’ and not ‘doing it for love’. In work oriented towards a deeper, warmer conjointness, this may prove an unattractive arrangement, because it impedes the creation of solidarity between constituents and adherents.

“As with psychologists and prostitutes, paying an adherent is a way of acknowledging that what is going on is not affection, with all the complications that brings, but an impersonal, commercial transaction.”


For example, consider the contrast, made by Foucault in his final lectures, between rhetoric, in which the speaker does not identify himself with the truths that he speaks; and parrhesia, the courageous or ‘fearless speech’ in which the speaker binds himself to the truth, thereby sharing the danger if the truths spoken on behalf of others turn out to displease the powerful. Using this useful distinction, we can distinguish between three roles an adherent might play in representation. An advocate will make your case for you, but without committing himself personally to the statements he makes in your name, which he might not share, or even find repugnant. His advocacy is therefore controlled – he acts under instruction, as the lawyers say – so the arrangement will have gone wrong if he fails to convey your meaning. But it is also impersonal, for you never know whether he himself shares your views; and his advocacy, whatever its rhetorical competence, will lack the passion that accompanies speaking from the heart. Furthermore, his advocacy operates at a distance, because he does not share the risk if the truths he speaks turn out badly. Your defence lawyer does not join you in prison.

The opposite role, in matters of representation, is the champion. The champion takes on more of the risk than anyone else. His actions are courageous, which may be very valuable to an oppressed movement. He has made your cause his own. But in doing so he acquires autonomy. Since he is more exposed than anyone else, he insists on deciding for himself how he will fight your cause for you. He does not work under instruction. His speaking is personal, more tightly bound in to the cause, but also harder to control.


The third role is that of the ally. She speaks in the name of others and shares with the champion a willingness to take risks, or, perhaps better, to share them. But she does not insist on autonomy. She shares with the advocate a willingness to defer to the constituents concerning what is to be said and done. But unlike the advocate, who remains impersonal, the ally also makes a personal commitment to the cause. This includes helping to decide what is to be said so that the case can be made in a way that respects her own feelings and other beliefs. She speaks alongside and among the constituents, unlike both the semi-detached champion who insists on autonomy and the advocate who is professionally distant. None of these is intrinsically a preferable arrangement. Movements which are prepared to be championed will have to take the risk that their champions prove unreliable. Those that pay for advocacy ought to get what they pay for, but without the personal endorsement and commitment offered by a champion.

“The problem with champions is their unreliability. The problem with advocates is their chilliness.”


Adherents are often thought to be useful because they can help to ‘frame’ and ‘bridge’ the demands a social movement wants to make, linking it to other movements and wider struggles. But when the movement’s work is more ambitious, perhaps in seeking to articulate a distinct demand of its own, such help can be harmful. Framing a demand so as to place it in perspective can mean slotting it into an already existing frame, and thereby risks appropriating it for some other cause. Distinctness can be lost in subtler ways too. Adherents may not be bent on capture, but anxious to help; and simply find it most natural to frame the constituents’ problem by generalizing it, treating their grievances as instances of a larger problem from which others, perhaps even including the adherents themselves, also suffer. Such reframing may be unsatisfactory to the constituents if the consequence is the dilution of the interests that are specific to their own struggle. Or it may be that adherents are anxious to belong, and therefore, consciously or unconsciously, favour framings which reflexively authorise their role in the struggle. We might see this as an attempt to break out of the dilemmas of disjointness by making everyone, adherent and constituent alike, constituents of one big cause. But constituents, especially in more ambitious movements, might see it differently, as an overbroadening of the membership and a loss of focus on their specific interests.

Social movements might easily be tempted to rely solely on constituents in matters of representation. But things are not so simple. Studies of descriptive representation suggest that relying on those who can make an immediate, descriptive claim to represent are not always easily held to account for what they do, because their claim to represent rests so heavily on a pre-emptive claim concerning what they are. An adherent, by contrast, has to work a little harder as a representative because he cannot make such an immediate claim. As potential beneficiaries of the movement’s work, constituents are, after all, interested parties. This both entitles them to represent themselves, and also requires them to ‘declare an interest’ when they do so. In certain forums, after all, an interested party is often expected to absent herself when the decision is made. The adherent is, by contrast, a disinterested party, at least with respect to the interest which is being represented. For the same reasons, this both qualifies her (as disinterested and hence ‘neutral’), and disqualifies her (as lacking an interest at stake).

“To ‘declare an interest’ is both to make a claim to be heard and also to acknowledge a compromising reservation which places your views under suspicion.”


For a social movement, therefore, the dilemma of political representation may turn on how the constituents conceive of their interests. If it is held that interests can be, or must be, defined independently of the judgments of the individuals whose interests they are, then there will be no need to bar adherents from representing them. If, however, interests are thought to require definition by those whose interests they are, then the constitutuents may decide that their interests are likely to be best served if they represent themselves.

We also need to distinguish between the pursuit of crystallized interests on the one hand; and the production of fresh proposals and the imagination of alternatives, on the other. With the benefit of hindsight it is much easier to see the distinct shape of a new demand than it was when the demand was emerging and uncrystallized. But radical newness does not arrive with its outlines clear, and there are particular reasons why privileged adherents may be slower to discern it than less privileged constituents. Adherents may be poor at hearing newness. Older forms of expertise, which they may well possess, are no guarantee that they will be good at hearing unfamiliar things. Newness will tend to strike them less forcibly. By contrast, the constituents may possess an epistemically superior ‘double consciousness’, formed by having to see things both through their own eyes and those of their oppressors.

“Adherents may be quite willing to apply their expertise to a new situation, but they find it much harder to be placed in a position in which it is impossible for them to be experts, or in which their expertise is called into question. But this calling into question is precisely what more ambitious movements feel they have to do.”


However, this may not be so, which is one reason why the dilemma of accountability is so complicated. For one thing, the oppressed are not invariably clearsighted: indeed their view can be fogged by oppression itself. Their virtues may be ‘burdened’. For another, the adherent is not just privileged. She has also decided to participate in other people’s struggles. She may herself exhibit some of the ‘epistemic virtues’, such as openmindedness, curiosity and (perhaps especially) diligence and a willingness to ‘work on herself’ in order to overcome privilege.

In this way, the value of the adherent, acting as the representative of new demands, turns on the ambition of the struggle to be represented. Where constituents are weak and their struggle is unambitious, perhaps in merely wanting to be represented somehow, adherents can be indispensable and, indeed, highly valued. They can, for example, make eloquent petitions on behalf of the constituents. This is because the provenance of petitions does not rest on their being made by the person to whom the wrong was done, but only that the wrong occurred. As a struggle becomes more ambitious, however, it has to find its own language. The old language in which the adherents are fluent cannot fully express the newness of what constituents want to say, and the new language in which these things can be said is still emerging. The typical statement is of these more ambitious movements is the declaration: the statement made not from below but by equals to equals. The provenance of declarations requires them to be made in the first person, or their newness is missed. More ambitious movements will therefore be less inclined to value adherents for their wider perspectives, and more inclined to trust their own voices.

“Adherents can make petitions, but it is harder for them to make declarations.”


The crucial point to note here, I think, is that it is exactly the same features of the adherent – those that make her so useful in movements of low ambition – that become problematic when it comes to hearing new demands and defining new interests.

In sum, then, the dilemma of the adherent is the risk of misrepresentation, when interests are crystallized; and suppression, when they are emergent.

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“When it comes to identity expression, what matters is what the adherent can be, rather than what they can do.”

In the power orientation, the dilemmas are concerned with what adherents do. In the expressive orientation, the dilemmas concern what they are. There is a corresponding shift from questions of accountability to questions of authenticity. In the expressive orientation, the movement’s work is concerned with the expression of identities, needs and desires. The difference between constituent and adherent in this work lies between constituents motivated to express fully their own identities, needs and desires; and adherents as those whose motivation is the desire for the identities, needs and desires of others to be fully expressed. How readily an identity can be expressed vicariously will turn on its provenance; that is, whether it is grounded in distinct experiences, and if so how readily these experiences can be shared with, or communicated to, others.

For example, some social struggles seek the extension of rights to constituents who do not currently hold them, on the grounds that such constituents share the same experiences or needs as those who already do. In such struggles, the adherent is often a possible and useful ally because the claim is made in terms of needs and experiences in which she shares, and which have already proved secure for her in grounding a right. The claim gains provenance because adherents endorse it.

In other struggles, however, the claim is made in terms not of commonalities, but distinctness, especially of experience, but also of nature, needs, or desires. The claims are made in the name of something which is not already owned by, or shared with, adherents. Claims like this cannot be made by adherents because she cannot speak with the same authority. The difference which is being articulated and expressed rests upon an essence, nature or needs that she does not have, experiences that she has not shared, or desires she herself does not feel. That is not to say that adherents cannot make authoritative statements at all, but only that their statements now require endorsement by constituents. The requirements of provenance are thereby reversed. Adherents are less possible and less useful allies. He can identify-with, but not identify-as a constituent. Disjointness, then, is produced by these different needs for provenance.

It is, however, possible to envisage other approaches in which the process of building new identities is more open, assisted but neither distracted nor overwhelmed by adherent contributions. For example, Marxist, and especially Leninist, models of leadership propose an ‘obstetric’ role for party intellectuals in bringing the revolutionary class to birth. Workers, no matter how distinctive their experiences, cannot become aware of themselves as a class without guidance from those with a ‘scientific’ understanding of those experiences. There is no reason why this should not be an educated worker. But it does not have to be, and there will be historical circumstances in which it is quite unlikely to be. The cause of exploitation may not be immediately graspable by the exploited, though they may be painfully aware of its effects. There may need to be intellectuals – perhaps of a new, ‘organic’ kind as Gramsci suggested or exponents of a ‘general intellect’ as ‘autonomia’ Italian Marxists argued – to educate them in class struggle.

Further suspicions about the value of raw experience can be derived from psychoanalytical thought. There is a certain type of understanding which comes from the absence of experience, because only such absence permits imagination. Experience, by contrast, restricts knowledge to only what has been personally gone through. But it is possible to envisage experiences which are no less – perhaps even more – comprehensible when they are imagined than when they are gone through at first hand. If so, then there seems no reason why adherents who have not gone through them should lack sufficient authority to speak of them.

“The constituents’ trump card is experience. Only they have experienced oppression, or are liable to it, hence only they can speak of it authentically, and without the need for validation by others. The adherent may perhaps speak about the constituents’ experiences, but he cannot speak from their experience or evince (i.e. show in his own person) experiences he has not himself had.”


At issue here is the nature and authority of experience itself. At one extreme, experience may be seen as no more than raw material, in need of interpretation by suitably qualified others to acquire meaning. At the opposite extreme, it may be claimed that experiences are not merely personal and non-transferable, but impossible to share. Most experience-based identity work, however, operates between these polar extremes. It tends to see the formative experiences as hard to share and requiring their own interpretative frameworks, rather than those offered ready-made by others.

However, dilemmas also arise with closed identity work. The border that the closed approach erects against the adherent is both theoretically uncrossable, but also anxiously policed. It is striking that social movements that seek to close themselves off entirely from adherents often seem to find it hard to stop talking about them. Conversation without them is still about them.

“To confirm yourself in your own identity is strictly speaking contradictory like self-baptism or self-ennoblement.”

One possible explanation is that distinctness of experience alone is not enough to secure an identity. Identities are not self-validating, but relationally validated. They cannot be secured from the resources of constituents alone, but require others to recognise them. They have to be secured through being recognised by others who do not share them.

“The demand for recognition is a demand to recognise the constituent as different from himself.”

What constituents seek from adherents is not inclusion in a common identity, but the recognition of a distinct identity; and acknowledgment of what is not shared conjointly with others, but is nonetheless valuable and worthy of esteem. When an adherent offers such recognition, he does not share in the recognised identity. On the contrary, he is acknowledging his own difference from the identity that now forms the basis of the movement’s work. The adherent is thereby simultaneously excluded from the process of identity formation, but also the subject of a demand that he recognise it. This will be experienced by the movement as disjointness.

Arguably too, every effort to define an identity (or any category) is an attempt to draw a border, since definitions struggle towards meaning through making contrasts. Excluding the adherents turns out not to be a matter of drawing a line and pushing them across it, but is perpetually destabilised by the re-emergence of difference on either side. For a social movement employing closure to define identities, these instabilities are manifested in two problematic figures. They are, first, the constituent who ought to fit but whom the movement struggles to include; and, secondly, the adherent who ought not to fit but whom the movement struggles to exclude. They are created, respectively, by problematic differences and problematic similarities. ‘Closed’ approaches to identity expression are haunted by these two spectral figures.

The frustration of being excluded but also subjected to demands creates the temptation for the adherent to seek to ‘cross over’ into the ranks of the constituents by seeking out the experiences that would entitle him to share conjointly in the making of a new identity. Crossing over has its own characteristic dilemmas. It is not always politically useful for an adherent to surrender her privileges. The more completely she does so, the less she can open doors, split the elite, and deliver those benefits which made her valuable to the constituents in the first place. Once she crosses over, she ceases to be an irritant or force for change in her own community. It may be more useful if she stays put to show that the dominant community is split, or that there is the possibility of change.

“Renunciation is therefore an unstable category. There are the privileged and the non-privileged but not those who have wholly renounced their privileges.”


On the other hand, the less complete her conversion, the less the adherent can share in the identity-building work of the movement. She is likely to be the object of suspicion unless she crosses over for good. There is a radical incompleteness in the notion of total renunciation. It arises because there is a critical difference between renouncing a privilege and not having (or never having had) a privilege to renounce. To be able to renounce your privileges is, after all, itself a privilege. An adherent may seek to burn this bridge too, allowing no way back. But he can never cease to be someone who once had such privileges and chose to renounce them.

For these reasons, and in these respects, it may feel harder for the adherent to participate in the expressive orientation than it is to strive to ensure that she is a good representative in the power orientation. Identities, or so it is often believed, are inhabited naturally, without special effort. For those who believe this to be so, the effortful attempt to inhabit an identity that is not one’s own unintentionally reveals itself – indeed betrays itself. The harder the adherent tries to cross over, the more he betrays himself as ‘someone trying to cross over’ rather than naturally inhabiting the identity he seeks. ‘You are trying too hard to fit in,’ he is told. ‘To be truly one of us, you would have to be one of us’. The very effort ‘to be one of us’ that wins acceptance in the power orientation, here in the expressive orientation becomes a source of suspicion.

In more ambitious struggles, the further problem is that of the adherent’s own identity, and the privileges that inevitably accrue to it, even in the surrender of them. If identities are formed relationally, then to refuse to be a beneficiary of identity work – a fellow constituent – constitutes a refusal to allow your own identity to be placed at risk. If, as is characteristically the case in less ambitious movements, these identities are the ones through which and by which the constituent identity will form – as a new variant of something that already exists and which the adherent embodies – then that may be unproblematic. But if the emergent identity arrives by contesting the other identity’s claim to superiority or natural authority, then the adherent’s identity has to be questioned too.

Self-effacement,among the adherents, is not always to be understood as selflessness. It can indicate an attempt to deflect attention from her own location.”

More ambitious constituents reject the notion that their identity is deviant or immature, when measured against the implied, unstated perfection of the adherent’s identity. They set their own standard of measurement. This cannot leave the adherent unaffected. The adherent’s self-effacement as an unmarked participant, standing alongside constituents ‘marked’ by difference (or lack or incompleteness) is revealed and rendered deeply problematic. His invisibility, which is easily mistaken for modesty or a polite refusal to make himself the centre of attention, now looks like failure to see himself as socially located too. ‘Never mind about my identity’, the adherent seems to say. ‘It’s securing yours we are concerned with.’ But this is not possible in movements of higher ambition. The adherent must reveal and change himself, and not merely, as in less ambitious movements, help others to change.

The roles the adherent can play will therefore vary according to the ambition of the movement’s work. Think again of the ‘obstetric’ model which imagines the process of identity formation as analogous to gestation and birth. Less ambitious movements, in which the hope is to develop a new identity without radically challenging the existing ones, will be prepared to accept the help of adherents without needing to worry that they have not directly shared the experiences of the constituents. The adherent can act as an obstetrician or midwife for the birth of the new identity, not creating it, but helping it into the world. In more ambitious movements, however, the new identity emerges directly from distinct experiences, and challenges outside expertise. Adherents lacking the experiences are now not needed, even unwelcome. They might at most be birth partners or doulas: supporting but not directing the process by which the new identity is born.

The obstetric analogy is not an ideal one, since birth, more than identity formation, is a natural process. It may be more helpful to think of identity formation as a matter of performance. With this analogy in mind, we could distinguish between the directors or choreographers who direct the performance, the performers themselves, and an audience who watch but are otherwise passive. In movements of low ambition, identity formation can be directed by non-performing adherents. In movements of greater ambition, the adherent must allow the performance to emerge in closed rehearsal, and withdraw to the audience. Audiences are important to performances – they shape the reception or recognition of the new identity – but they do not direct or perform it themselves.

“Rather than being excluded for what they are not, could adherents be included for what they might make themselves? “


It is in movements working with open approaches to identity formation that we might hope to find greater scope for the adherent to participate. Identities form, perhaps, not through the uncovering of an already-formed self, but the fabrication of a self which is never fully secure, but which acquires some temporary and contingent meaning through narrative, reiteration and performativity. If identity consists in ‘becoming’, not ‘having-to-start-with’, then might not adherents ‘become’? If having an experience is really just having a certain story to tell, then might there not be converging narratives of resistance that constituents and adherents can tell each other? At least, such a possibility cannot be ruled out a priori on the grounds that present identities discourage it.

More radically, it might even be argued that if all identities are produced performatively, then a distinction between constituents who already inhabit the identity, and adherents who do not, becomes unsustainable. In its place, we might conceive of a shared space in which mobile subjects, unstable performers, identitiies-in-the-making – the nomads, cyborgs, mestizas and tricksters of gender theory, for example – mix experimentally and unpredictably with the traitors and other adherents who also refuse to accept the designation that the existing configuration of identities seeks to impose on them. In the absence of provenance, conjointness might be possible because everyone would be in flight from attempts to categorise them. I return to these possibilities in another chapter.

In the empowerment and solidarity orientations, the participants in a social movement face each other, and their activities are directed first towards the personal development and raised consciousnesses of the members as activists; and secondly to the building of collective solidarity between them. There are therefore two elements to consider: first, the individual empowerment of the members; and, secondly, the construction of bonds of belonging between members.

What role is there here for the adherent? In the empowerment orientation, constituents are those motivated by the prospect of their own empowerment; adherents those who are motivated by the empowerment of others. The adherent, in this orientation, is the already-empowered individual whose empowerment is not the object of the work.

Adherents like this can help others to become empowered. But empowerment differs in two important respects from the pursuit of interests and the expression of identities (the work done in the earlier orientations). First, empowerment can be pursued, but not achieved vicariously. Someone might help me to become empowered – by teaching me, for example – but she cannot become empowered for me, or on my behalf. Although an adherent working in other orientations might satisfactorily represent my interests, or even express my identity, she cannot become empowered for me. Secondly, empowerment is delimited in time. The representation of others’ interests, or the expression of others’ identities, could go on indefinitely. The empowerment of others, by contrast, fails if it does not come to an end. So the role that the adherent can play is limited in these two ways. She must respect the non-transferability of empowerment, and not try to be empowered on behalf of others. And she must also respect the perishability of empowering others.


Here, then is another difference between constitents and adherents. Part of the adherents’ motivation comes from the constituents’ pursuit of empowerment, more than its achievement. This is exactly the reverse of the position of the constituent motivated by goal accomplishment. To her, achievement, more than pursuit, is what matters.

Empowerment can be conjoint or disjoint. If it is conjoint, then the participants empower each other reciprocally without the help of anyone else. If it is disjoint, one participant empowers another without herself becoming empowered. The key figure in disjoint empowerment is the protégé, or favoured pupil, who is first trained by those with greater capabilities, and then in turn trains others.

The figuration of disjoint empowerment is not a chain along which learning is passed, but a hierarchy down which it cascades.

By contrast, conjoint empowerment draws on the resources of the group, and its purpose is not exactly instruction, but to create a space within which capabilities can be collectively built.

“Empowerment is a personally owned and non-transferable achievement. It is work that cannot be delegated to others.”

“Empowerment is also perishable: It must fail, or in succeeding, dissolve itself.”

The nature and extent of the dilemmas caused by disjointness, I suggest, turn on the ambition of the movement’s work. Disjoint empowerment is adequate in less ambitious work where the intention is that the constituents learn something static, and that they should become pupils in order to learn it. More ambitious constituents want to judge capabilities for themselves, and not wait to be told when they have qualified by the teacher. In still more ambitious movements, disjoint empowerment is simply unbearable tutelage. It is inattentive to what the oppressed themselves already know. In the most ambitious empowerment work, what is disputed is not just the lessons that the adherents have been teaching, nor even their status as teachers and that of the constituents as pupils. The problem concerns what the adherents themselves always knew, and their own motivations and positioning in concealing it. The most ambitious struggles require adherents to undergo a form of re-education themselves.

“Disjoint empowerment is sometimes tolerable, but only when the ambition of the movement’s work is low.”

Thus if the characteristic complaint against the adherent in the power orientation is, ‘You are misrepresenting our interests’; and if the complaint in the expressive orientation is, ‘You know neither who we are nor who we wish to be’; the complaint in the inward orientation is, ‘You appreciate neither what we can already do, nor what we might do’.

The potential weakness of adherents in the other orientations, I suggested earlier, is inattention both to the new demands that arise on a distant horizon, and to their own vested interests closer to home. Here in the empowerment orientation, it is inattention to new capability in others, and incapability in themselves.

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In solidarity work, the second form of inwardly-oriented work, participants are concerned with enhancing the group as a group. There are many ways in which this can be done, but in Other People’s Struggles, I focus on two in particular: first doing things in common, especially living prefiguratively together; and, secondly, feeling the same way: that is, the sharing of common emotional bonds.

Prefiguration involves a movement modelling its organizational arrangements and internal culture on the future political arrangements it seeks. ‘One day,’ it says, ‘everyone will live as we do now’. However, prefiguration can divide adherents from constituents. Prefigurative politics, with its gaze firmly on the future, risks neglecting the present. To prefigure may seem to pre-empt, if it implies living as though present problems have been solved. Prefiguration can also neglect the past, if it is taken to imply that past errors have been cancelled out just by being acknowledged.

“Let’s live now as though we had achieved our goal,” says the adherent. “Yes, now,” says the constituent. “But, at the same time, not yet.”

Prefiguration can also set the movement ahead of everyone else. The difficulty with establishing commitment to the cause as the basis of movement identity is that it risks setting up a barrier to those who have not committed, but might yet do so if movement identity were to lie elsewhere. The more intense the rituals of belonging and commitment among members of the prefigurative band, the more they may, even inadvertently, exclude those who have not yet joined. The conjointness between activists is purchased at the cost of the sharpest disjointness between the activist and the object of his work.

Movements achieve solidarity not just by getting their members to do similar things, but also to feel in similar ways. However, adherents and constituents may find it hard to share the binding emotional life of the movement itself. For example, constituents, as the more directly affected by oppression, are more likely to experience anger and resentment, and adherents indignation and moral outrage. Or think of the distinction between the emotions of pity and sympathy. We feel sympathy for those whose experiences we think it possible or likely we might share, as they may do for us. Pity, though, is disjoint. We feel it for people whose shoes we do not expect to be in. It can even be accompanied by a peculiar sense of relief or pleasure that we are not in their shoes. The pity of adherents may sometimes be unwelcome to constituents. Equally, to claim sympathy for those whose experiences you do not share may also be unwelcome. Attempts to share what they feel may be intrusive and disrespectful. It is to attempt to share what cannot be shared. I give several other examples of such emotional disjointness in my book Other People’s Struggles.

Emotions bind social movements. But sometimes they divide adherents and constituents.

It does seem likely, therefore, that the problems adherents bring to social movements vary significantly by orientation and ambition. Although they vary, they are all in one sense aspects of a single problem: what to do with the adherent’s privilege. For the adherent to have a distinctive contribution to make to the movement, she must have something in addition to what the constituents already have. Where this difference is acknowledged to have value for the movement, we can call it a privilege. In work of some orientations and ambitions, however, this privilege raises suspicions. The adherent is caught in a double-bind: she can now only be useful by surrendering privileges that constituted her usefulness.

In the power orientation, and in the least ambitious struggles, there may be no suspicions at all. Constituents may simply be grateful that some well-resourced individual is representing their interests, and not mind being grateful either. In more ambitious work, however, the constituents do mind. They require the adherent to listen harder to what the constituents have to say about their interests. In the most ambitious work, the adherents are required to think about their own interests, not merely those they possess residually as members (even if dissident ones) of the dominant groups from which they come, but also the interests they pursue as adherents. The constituents insist that such interests, which may be pursued quite inadvertently, are rendered visible, and that the perspectives from which adherents have judged what is best for others and the unquestioned naturalness with which they have spoken for others’ interests is named and problematized.

“The adherent’s privilege can help or hinder social movement work. Which it does depends more than anything on the orientation and ambition of the work.

When a movement is engaged in expressive work, a similar pattern is evident. The less ambitious struggles demand that the adherent pays proper respect to the constituents’ identities, both to what they have in common with them, and, more ambitiously, to the ways in which they differ. The most ambitious movements insist that the adherent think about his own identity and the way that this itself constitutes privilege. The adherents are not, as perhaps it may seem in the less ambitious struggles, identity-less, but – as it might be – white, male, straight, and so forth. The adherent’s privilege is now made visible and requires a special sort of attention, both by the adherent and the movement itself.

In the empowerment orientation, the least ambitious constituents want to learn to do what the adherents can already do. More ambitious constituents want the adherents to reflect on what the constituents can already do. The most ambitious movements want the adherents to think about what the adherents can’t do. Ambition problematizes the adherents’ capabilities, just as it in the other orientations it problematized their identities or their authority as judges of others’ interests. So the problems differ, but they also exhibit this common feature: that the unambitious and moderately ambitious movements only require the adherent to consider others; the most ambitious movements that she should reflect upon and then make changes in herself.


paperdartlogo750_2406The full version of these four chapters, each of which is about four times as long as the summary here, is not yet published, but will appear in my book Other People’s Struggles. But if you would like to read them in draft, please click on the paper dart icon to the left, and send me a message.