Cox, Dr. Laurence
Structure, routine and transformation: movements from below at the end of the century.
This (very provisional) paper draws on the Irish experience of counter cultures to think about the shape and direction of movements from below at the end of the century and to find ways of asking "where do we go from here?" It starts by trying to make sense of the existing directions of counter cultural movement projects, which it sees as organic challenges to everyday social routines ("ordinary life") that are extended to the point of challenging large-scale power structures ("politics"). It does this by looking at some of the political tensions in the Irish versions of these projects: between strategies of mainstreaming and ghettoising, of consensus and disruption, of populism and elitism, and trying to identify the internal divisions of interest and rationality that underlie these tensions.
If we want to be able to choose our directions well and to bring others along with us, we need to find ways of evaluating these choices that are neither arbitrary nor automatic. This paper suggests that it is possible to develop an immanent critique which asks how adequate different strategies are to the counter cultural project as a whole. This might mean, for example, using comprehensiveness rather than one-sidedness, scope rather than limits, or compatibility rather than contradiction as yardsticks to judge the relationship between a political strategy and a movement. On this basis it suggests that a strategy oriented to the development of counter-hegemony, conflict and popular mobilisation might come closest to being adequate to the existing movement.
To develop an appropriate strategy and to make it happen are two different things, and the paper then goes on to try to think about the social construction of this kind of strategy. It does this by looking at the organisational frameworks, communicative structures and techniques of the self involved in building and sustaining a counter culture capable of taking such a direction, and examines some historical and contemporary models ("1968", 1980s movement scenes, and contemporary "cultures of resistance") for possible points of reference. It also asks the crucial question of who within the counter culture might find such a strategy attractive, what kind of movement it "constructs" and what its chances of internal success might be.
The paper then tries to see where the current situation, and the strategy it argues for, fit within the longer history of transformative politics and movement politics. It suggests that there has been a revival from the late 1960s on of themes that were important on the radical left until the early 1920s, but were increasingly marginalised with the closure of organised capitalism and the collusion in mid-century of the mainstream left with organisation from above and taken-for-granted forms of social life. An important question within contemporary capitalism is how far the changed circumstances of weak states and contested everyday cultures, as well as the "movement legacy" of decommodified areas, offer space for such a strategy.
The paper finishes by taking issue with the claim, made both by many on the neo-traditionalist left and its postmodern critics, that the critique of structural inequality and that of everyday routine are necessarily opposed to one another. It argues that relating the two has been a key part of the relationship between intellectuals and movements on the left since Marx and Morris, and that it is crucial for any attempt
to transform social relationships to change both the structural arrangements they generate and the everyday routines which reproduce them. If a coherent and emancipatory alliance of the two critiques can be developed, it is worth serious attention, whether or not it appears in a form we find congenial.
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