I finally got my act together and bought lauraportwoodstacer.com, so I’ll be updating my blog there from now on. I brought all the old posts from here over to there, so everything is over there now. The design is a work in progress, but all the content should be there.
So. I’ve been hard at work on the concluding chapter for the past two weeks. It’s been difficult, because basically this was the chapter that really had yet to be written as part of the dissertation, and because I’m trying to make some pretty brassy claims about What It All Means.
A really helpful exercise for me was to meet with my newly formed feminist writing group last week, who read my Identity chapter and gave me feedback on it. They did a great job of saying “you made a great point here – I think that’s your intervention” which is giving me the confidence to say “yes, THIS is what I am arguing with this book” in the conclusion. It was a really needed boost too, as I presented some of my analysis at a conference last week and while it was met with mostly positive reception, there were a few snarks in the audience, and while I realize that you’re not going to please everyone with your work (and you probably shouldn’t if you’re making any kind of substantive intervention), I took it pretty hard in private. What the episode most taught me was that I can stand to be more careful with how I *frame* my claims without backing away from them. In any case, my feminists had exactly the right advice, as I knew they would, which was why I wanted to get them all together in the first place.
Anyway, the conclusion now exists in a very drafty form, which I’m hoping to refine over the next week. It’s getting pretty heady, almost to the point where I’m afraid that maybe I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, so I’m really going to need someone else who has a firm grip on neoliberalism to read it and be like “yes, this part makes sense” and “uhhhh, yeah you’re gonna need to unpack that.” And then maybe help me figure out how to unpack it because my brain is about at the tips of its abilities right now. I can’t quite decide if that means I’m stretching in a really productive way, or if I have crossed the line too far into talking out of my ass territory. Again, outside eyes will be helpful in assessing this.
Anyhoo, in parallel with this concluding stuff, I’ve been digging into some recent anarchist literature to make sure I have enough context, especially as I get ready to draft the introduction. I will of course not be able to read everything, but I’m trying to hit the highlights at least. I’ve got six weeks until my self-imposed deadline for producing a circulatable draft of this whole thing. This is completely terrifying.
It’s been an ok couple of weeks. Not a ton of progress to report, partly because I got a revise and resubmit on an unrelated manuscript and wanted to get those revisions squared away and out of my hair, partly because I had another piece to finish, and partly because I wasn’t working as hard as I could have been in the transition back to NY from LA where I was for 3 weeks. Anyhoo, I did manage to get the roughest of drafts (outline might be a better word) of the final chapter cobbled together, where I try to visit all the major issues at stake around lifestyle politics within radical activist movements. If I do it right (and I have to), this’ll also serve as a conclusion for the book, braiding in the arguments and findings of the previous four chapters. It’s at 49 pages right now, which is stupid long for a conclusion. I’m hoping that a lot of that is just repetition where I pasted in the same ideas twice and the length will fall away as I actually run everything through the pasta-maker (my term for revisions in which passages of crappy writing (dough) become passages of less crappy writing, eventually arriving at entirely non-crappy writing–the pasta). We’ll see.
I also spent a bit of time over the past few weeks reading through all the chapters and writing summaries of them. I did this so I would have something to show my “research assistant” (actually a cool New York based anarchist activist who is helping me get a handle on some of the links between my book’s arguments and what’s been going down with OWS since it started), and because this will eventually have to be part of the Introduction chapter anyway. They are not totally polished as writing yet, but I’m going to post them here anyway:
Each chapter has a dual purpose: 1) to provide rich description of practices and discourses which are central to anarchist lifestyles and 2) to make a theoretical argument about lifestyle politics
Identity politics chapter – 1) describes how individuals relate to the identity category “anarchist”, what attractions it holds and what problems it presents as a category of identity; 2) argues that subcultural commitments to “authenticity” are both productive—in that they engender self-discipline and community accountability among activists—and destructive—in that they often lead to internecine drama and boundary-policing within movements. These phenomena relate to lifestyle in that lifestyle practices are often the means by which an individual’s sincere commitment to the principles and goals of anarchist movements are gauged by one’s peers/comrades. This gauging of sincerity proves problematic when the individual lifestyle habits of anarchist subcultures are recontextualized within the dominant culture under which all individuals must live. Differential levels of privilege within the dominant culture may translate to differential abilities to undertake the practices which serve as measures of subcultural authenticity. Some anarchists attempt to cope with this problem through a kind of ironic stance toward authentic anarchist identity, which tries to balance the benefits of cohesive group identity with an awareness of its limitations.
Anti-consumption chapter – 1) describes anti-consumption practices; 2) argues that lifestyle tactics, such as anti-consumption, “do” more than simply fulfill material, strategic goals, such as subverting capitalism. Thus they need to be analyzed, critiqued, and evaluated for all their potential effects. It makes this argument by showing how individuals may be motivated by many factors, not just straightforward activist outcomes. Specifically, I identify five distinct types of motivation for anti-consumption practices: personal, moral, activist, identificatory, and social motivations. My analysis focuses especially on the social motivations and effects of anarchist consumption patterns. I then illustrate how this typology can be usefully applied to specific practices and the effects thereof, in order to arrive at a strategic assessment of any given lifestyle-based tactic.
Self-presentation chapter – 1) describes self-presentation practices; 2) argues that the meaning of subcultural stylistic practices is context-dependent, and travels in a circuit among producers and consumers (wearers and observers) of stylistic practices. The meanings assigned to anarchists’ self-presentation in various contexts, and the practical implications of these meanings (such as social prejudice, in-group boundary-policing, and even mainstream co-optation through commodification), are important to consider in assessing self-presentation as an activist tactic. It makes this argument through the presentation of perspectives from individuals who adopt typical practices of anarchist self-presentation, and from those who choose not to. I also apply theories of representation, performance, and power to the production and consumption of embodied, stylistic “texts.”
A major defining characteristic of anarchist style is that it “communicates a significant difference” from the mainstream. The stylistic differences are meant to symbolize ideological differences, and to make these ideological differences visible on the body since they would be invisible otherwise. The communication of ideological differences—to both insiders and outsiders—relies on shared discursive frameworks in which stylistic expressions are made and made sense of. Yet in reality the discursive frameworks through which people perform and interpret anarchist self-presentation are not universally shared. Furthermore, like other lifestyle practices, stylistic performances may be [unequally/disproportionately] attractive or practicable for anarchists coming from different social positions. Due to dominant cultural conditions, women and people of color may be less likely to display their affinity with anarchism on their bodies. The consequence of this is that stylistic markers of anarchist identity are most recognizable on the bodies of white men. This reinforces assumptions about homogeneity within activist communities, assumptions made by both insiders and outsiders to activist movements.
Sexuality chapter – 1) describes three major sexual practices; 2) argues that lifestyle practices may be both expressive and instrumental / symbolic and material, and that each of these dimensions can be considered when assessing the strategic fitness of a given tactical practice in a given personal, historical, etc context. I make this argument by comparing three sexual lifestyle practices adopted by anarchists as part of their anarchist orientations—polyamory, queer self-identification, and consent-seeking—and considering the expressive and instrumental motivations for each.
This chapter also argues that while sexual identities may be performatively constituted through everyday, embodied practice, the symbolic act of sexual identification is also seen as a kind of activist practice in itself. This dynamic is observable in many contexts, not just in sexuality. For example, avowed identification as “anarchist” is itself seen as a practice of anarchist activism, since it represents dissent from mainstream political subjectivity and thus disrupts the myth of consensus on which hegemonic liberal societies are founded. This is partly the subject of the identity politics chapter outlined above.
Lifestylism chapter – 1) describes how the terms “lifestyle anarchist” and “lifestylism” are sometimes used as epithets within movement discourse to elevate supposedly worthwhile forms of activism from illegitimate, superficial forms of activism. These terms also mark a distinction between worthwhile participants in anarchist movements and those whose politics and practices are seen as being in the wrong place. The discourse around lifestylism highlights the many issues at stake when individual, everyday practices become significant—even prioritized–for a political movement. This chapter surveys those issues as they are manifest within contemporary anarchism, and then draws broader conclusions about the significance of lifestyle politics within broader contemporary culture.
I’ve got a bunch of commitments this week that will probably prevent me from making much further progress on the Lifestylism chapter/conclusion. But it really needs to get done soon. So I’m hoping to have a much more drafty (less outliney) draft by next weekend. Miiiight need to do a social commitment fast until it gets done. I don’t usually like to do that, but August is creeping up and that is a scary thought.
Over the past couple days I’ve gone through the four body chapters of the book manuscript, and attempted to identify the major arguments I’m making/want to make with this book. As a writing exercise, this sets me up to know exactly what needs to be communicated in my introduction and conclusion chapters, and to be reassured that these are the points guiding the content of everything that comes in between. Here they are:
- Lifestyle practices are communicative; they especially establish self-identification and group membership.
- Identity performance, as well as community cohesion and distinction, are major motivators (and effects) of lifestyle practices.
- Postmodern political identities are centrally constituted through lifestyles. This leaves them open to contestation, which may be strategically advantageous and in fact internally consistent with anarchist political philosophy.
- Lifestyle tactics (e.g. anti-consumption) “do” more than simply fulfill material, strategic goals (like subverting capitalism). They thus need to be analyzed, critiqued, and evaluated for all their potential effects.
- Lifestyle practices may also be imagined as symbolic communicators of political philosophy, but this is perhaps a less effective form of “work” done by subcultural styles, since they may be difficult to interpret for outside audiences.
- Certain tactics (i.e. certain lifestyle practices) may be more attractive, practicable, and legible for non-marginal subjects. This can lead to internal homogeneity within activist movements, as well as the reproduction of mainstream patterns of identity hierarchy within the activist subculture.
- The “lifestylization” of radical activist movements brings both diffusion of their political ideals and defusion of them. This tension is unresolvable – the only solution is to evaluate very specific situations and to decide whether the trade-off is worth it for any particular lifestyle-based tactic in any particular context.
- The expressive versus instrumental effects of lifestyle practices need to be distinguished and considered when weighing the intent and success of these practices as activist tactics.
- A solution to the problem of lifestyle activism sliding into neoliberal individualism is collective, reflexive, intersectional, and strategic critique, along with ethical discipline around preferred tactics, tempered by situational adaptability and moral humility.
This is 9 major points right now. I think that by the time I finish the final chapter it will be an even 10. That does sound like a lot of arguments for one book, but I’m sure some of these could be combined. I will have to eventually figure out the one, major, overarching point, to tell people when I meet them in elevators, but I’ll wait on that for now.
So I just finished re-reading the four body chapters from the book manuscript. I, predictably, vacillated between feeling like “ok, this is great” and “ugh this is all I have to show for the past 5 years of work?” But overall I’m feeling pretty good. Oddly, I felt like the weakest chapter was the first – this is odd because this is the one that was recently published in a fairly prestigious journal. I think my trouble with it is that it is more heavily descriptive than the other three and thus maybe *feels* less sophisticated than the others. I also kind of hate it because it feels the most “let me tell you about anarchists, which I assume you know nothing about,” which may be actually appropriate for most of the potential audience of the book, but the imaginary anarchist reader in my head will hate it because it will seem so elementary/weirdly exoticizing. I probably just need to get over that though.
My big breakthrough today was realizing that the fourth body chapter, on identity construction and performance, will actually function really well as the *first* body chapter. This will solve a few problems at the same time — it will push the more descriptive Consumption chapter back one, so it will be more buried in the middle of the manuscript. And it will put one of the more important and broad theoretical contributions of the research more up front, which will remedy my idiosyncrasy of saving up my bombshell points and dropping them on the reader as if I’ve written a suspense novel instead of an academic book.
As I was reviewing the body chapters, I made a point to identify the major theoretical arguments of the whole manuscript and the major literatures on which I have drawn/to which I see this work as contributing. (I’m going to type those out here on this blog, but in a separate post.)
I guess my goal for the next week is to start writing up the first part of the Lifestylism chapter/conclusion, which will marshall evidence from internal discourses about lifestyle anarchism as well as bring theory (from social movement studies, queer studies, consumer activism studies, and subculture studies) to bear on the debates around lifestyle politics within anarchist movements.
I’m very happy to report that it took exactly a week’s worth of work to get the Identity chapter into the form of a complete draft, so I put that to bed on Friday! My plan now is to work on the final chapter which will serve three purposes: (1) introduce documentary evidence of the contestations over “lifestylism” within anarchist movements; (2) synthesize the previous 4 chapters’ contributions to understanding the strategic implications of lifestyle politics; and (3) conclude the book. I will probably work on the pieces out of order, tackling number 2 first because it’s the most straightforward. Then I’ll probably do number 1, then write the introduction chapter and methodology chapter/appendix (I think I will be butting up against my total word count pretty soon, so I’m thinking the methodology component is where length will be sacrificed), then come up with a brilliant conclusion for the whole thing. And of course somewhere in there I need a stroke of inspiration to hit for each of the chapter introductions, woof.
So yes, the notion that I would finish that chapter draft by last Tuesday was indeed a pipe dream. I’ve been working on it every day since then and I think it’s only gotten more complicated and unwieldy. I think I have it all laid out the way I want it at this point, but it’s so disjointed and unpolished now that it will take a lot of work to get it to a readable draft. I’d say at least a week’s worth of work, minimum. My next progress report is only 4 days away, so hopefully I will be more than half done with the revision at that point!