Book Progress Report, Week 31 and 32

7 Jul

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.

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