Tweeting Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism

Happy May Day, high holiday of radical activists the world over.

Today I’m starting a Twitter experiment:

I wrote a book that examines closely how anarchist activists try to craft political identities for themselves and live out their political beliefs in their everyday lives. On a broader scale, the book is about the cultural dimensions of activism and what happens when power and privilege play out within movement cultures. For the next few months, I’m going to tweet something from the book every day, using the hashtag #LPRA. The points will be roughly in chronological order, so if you follow the hashtag, you’ll get a gloss of the whole book. I will probably set up these tweets to be released automatically each day, so let’s hope any unforeseen coincidences with current events are fortuitous and illuminating (and not the opposite). Ideally these tweets will be useful and engaging; if not, you can always mute the hashtag.

Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism can be read in full online and the chapters are downloadable as PDFs. It may be reproduced and distributed freely, as long as you give attribution to me and my publisher. You’re not supposed to charge for it if you copy it, but if you’re an activist group that sells photocopies to fundraise, I won’t stop you. If you choose to purchase the book, I will receive a tiny bit of money. So far I have donated all my royalties to activist collectives and I will likely continue to do so in the future.

Book Updates

 

2013-07-31 16.07.52

July 31st was a very exciting day for me, as it was the day I checked my mailbox at work and found my 6 complimentary author copies of Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism! It’s not available for sale yet, but it looks like it can be pre-ordered at certain online booksellers.

Last week I met with my editor and the marketing assistant at Bloomsbury to talk about promotion and distribution. Some of the info I found out from them was useful so I’m going to pass it along here.

  • The Creative Commons platform for Bloomsbury publications isn’t up and running at the moment, but it’s projected to be up in the spring. This means that, for now, if you want to read the book, you have to buy it or email me for a copy of the uncorrected proofs. But in a few months you’ll be able to download it for free for “activist” purposes (after reading the book carefully, you’ll be able to argue that “activism” can kind of be anything you want it to be).
  • I do have a copy of the final proofs of the front matter and first chapter, so that will be posted here for free download starting today.
  • In addition to the hardcover and paperback editions, the book will also be available for purchase in an ebook version readable by Kindles, Nooks, etc.
  • I’m in the process of recording an audiobook version, which I’m going to provide free here for personal use. It’s very DIY, so don’t expect fanciness, but I figured an audio format would appeal to busy academics who might not otherwise have the chance to read the book and thus the audiobook was worth making.
  • Maybe the most exciting thing I found out is that the whole Contemporary Anarchist Studies series is going to be distributed by AK Press. They’re still working out the details apparently, but someday I’m going giddily shout when I see my book on the AK table at an anarchist bookfair. This also means that the book will be available at rad places like Bluestockings and various infoshops.
  • The book will also be available at conferences where Bloomsbury has a booth, so look for them. I’ll also be getting a flyer with a code for the conference discount rate, so if I present the work at a conference Bloomsbury isn’t at, I can still hook you up with a cheaper version of the book.
  • I’m hoping to have a NYC launch party in early September. I should have copies for sale there at a discounted rate, assuming I can get them in time.

Happy reading, whenever and however you do it!

Book Progress Report, Week 40, 41, and 42

Well, I finished a complete draft of the manuscript!

When I say “complete” I am conveniently overlooking all the footnotes that need to be cleaned up or fleshed out, the specific page numbers that need to be tracked down for quotations, and about a million entries in the bibliography. But there’s a draft, and it is clean enough that I feel comfortable asking people to read it and give me feedback, which is what I’ve been doing this week. So far I have 4 generous volunteers. I’d like to recruit a few more readers who actually have experience writing and publishing academic books, but that might not be in the cards (such people are usually insanely busy and I feel bad asking them for a favor like that).

Right now I’m just letting it sit for a while without working on it. I read over the first two and last chapters today – not letting myself make edits – and I was actually pretty pleased. I won’t be surprised if I get some comments about things to change there, but I’m proud of the work I’ve put in.

Sigh of relief.

Book Progress Report, Week 38 and 39

Well, a draft of the introduction chapter is done. This was possible in part because I cut about half of it and decided to spin that off into its own chapter, which I’m calling the “context” chapter and which is going to cover anarchist theory and strategy, the history of anarchist movements in the US, the history of lifestyle politics in previous sub/countercultural radical movements in the US, and the methods/methodologies I used to conduct my research. I like this being its own chapter because it’s the kind of thing that you could really skip if you weren’t interested or already had a grounding in this stuff. But it will also address a lot of the questions that I seem to get every time someone reads or hears about my research.

The one issue I have really struggled with, even since the dissertation phase, is how to cover the historical precedents, particularly of the counterculture, feminist, and anti-racist movements of the 60s and 70s. People *constantly* bring those up and say that I absolutely must address them, and I agree that the parallels, both empirically and theoretically, between them and contemporary anarchist lifestyle politics are striking. But I’m not sure what else to say other than that. Yes, there are historical throughlines between these movements, so it’s not really a coincidence that the same issues come up with them. But I’m not particularly prepared or qualified to document those-it would make a great book, it’s just not the book I’ve been working on for the past 6 years. What I really need to do, I think, is find where someone else has done it really well, so I can point to that (as I’m planning to do with Cornell’s history of US anarchism). Maybe I’m just overthinking it, and all people are looking for is for me to acknowledge that parallels exist and leave it at that. I also think there’s an element of “hey this thing reminds me of that thing and I just wanted to point that out!” which is of course totally understandable and even helpful in some cases. And this is not to say that some of the sociological work that has been done on these movements isn’t really helpful for my own thinking about contemporary lifestyle politics, and I’ve tried to reference that work where I can. But as for the historical parallels, there’s only so much to say without turning this into a different book than the one it claims to be.

Anyway, other than the “context” chapter, which is currently mostly in notes form (ugh), I’ve got minimal work to do on each of the other chapters. By “minimal” I mostly mean that each one needs an introduction and to have varying amounts of margin notes integrated into the text. At least I know what each introduction will be about at this point. The last chapter needs the most body work, but probably only a few days’ worth, hopefully. I think its structure is sound at least.

I’m pretty sure the next three months will become an exercise in “letting it go”–letting some of the weaker aspects of the manuscript stand, even where I can identify the weaknesses, in the interest of having a done book instead of a perfect one. And in the interest of recognizing that I might be my own harshest critic and that the parts I think are “weak” and could be strengthened may be acceptable enough as they are. Of course, the thoughts that really turn my stomach are when I wonder if there are just fundamental flaws in the work that really could not be fixed no matter how much more work I did (like, oh, maybe my whole research design is f’ed). But I guess if those things keep someone from respecting my work or hiring me, there’s not much I can do about it, except maybe try to do better/differently in my next project.

Book Progress Report, Week 35, 36, and 37

Well, it’s been a long time since an update, but I’m happy to say that’s because I’ve been working a lot and getting a lot done. The conclusion chapter is basically done, and I think it makes a lot of sense. I’ve asked one person to read it so far, and he had nothing negative to say about it, so I’m taking that as a sign that it’s good enough in its current form (for now).

I’ve mostly been working on the introduction chapter lately. The material for it has come together very easily – once I sat down and started writing/assembling all the things I felt like someone would need to know in order to make sense of what is presented in the book, more than enough ended up on the page. It’s mostly outlined, and most of the substance and references are pasted in, it’s just a matter of stitching it all together into prose that makes sense. I am doing just a little bit more review of the literature, mostly sociological stuff on social movements, in order to flesh out the history. I read Andrew Cornell’s dissertation, which was a history of 20th century anarchist movements, and it was really a godsend for filling in a lot of the gaps that still remained in the intro and conclusion. Fortunately for me, not only was his diss crazy-well researched, but also he was clearly thinking through some of the same issues of lifestyle and individualism that my book is all about, so the orientation of his history was right on target for me. It feels very good to know that I can point readers to this work, without having to cover all of this ground myself. (If you have access to NYU dissertations and are at all interested in anarchist history, you *must* read Cornell’s work. His book Oppose and Propose is also great and definitely worth reading.)

Anyway, back to the introduction. It’s clocking in at 60ish single spaced pages which is absurd. I’m certain most of it is just block quotes and redundant references that will get cut out as I actually turn the content into prose. But I will probably have to turn a very ruthless eye toward everything and ask if it’s really necessary for the reader to encounter it there. I have a feeling a lot of the Foucault theoretical stuff is going to go. I think it’s pretty important for explaining what the book is trying to do and where I’m coming from as a thinker, but it’s probably not *necessary* for the reader to know and may not even be interesting to anyone except hardcore Foucaultians. Who, really, would probably recognize the Foucaultian tinge of the book without me needing to telegraph it in the introduction anyway. Sooo, we’ll see. The important thing now is to get a draft down so that someone else’s eyes can look at it — they can be the ones to say what information is necessary to add in and what can be cut out, since I’ve probably lost all reliable perspective on that anyway. Three more weeks!

Book Progress Report, Week 33 and 34

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.

Book Progress Report, Week 31 and 32

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.

Major arguments of Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism

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.

Book Progress Report, Week 30

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.

Book Progress Report, Week 29

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.

Book Progress Report, Week 28

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!

Book Progress Report, Week 27

Today is one of those days I sat down at my computer to write a little bit and just can’t muster up the will to do it. This chapter is really giving me trouble – I think no matter how many times I outline and sketch out the argument, it just feels over-worked and forced. Which makes me worry that I don’t in fact have a very strong argument in this chapter. Now, maybe this chapter doesn’t need to have a stronger argument than “the whole idea of an anarchist identity (esp. one that is constituted through lifestyle practices) is problematic and here are some of the reasons why” but that feels pretty uncompelling to me. Like it’s the kind of thing that will only be interesting if you happen to care about anarchism as a political project. Maybe that a valid basis for a chapter, I dont know – this book is in a series called Contemporary Anarchist Studies after all. I think what I need to do it spit out what I’m saying about anarchist identity, like just get it down on paper, and then use the introduction and last section to position it as a set of questions and observations that can be fruitful to consider for other social movements/identities. Basically, give myself a stern talking to in which I say, just write this damn chapter, Laura, you can perfect it to death (aka refine the argument) later. It’s worth remembering that this was the sample chapter that got two thumbs-ups from the anonymous referees, so it couldn’t have been too awful to begin with.

I’m having a pipe dream that I will get a good draft of the chapter done by Tuesday (when I leave for LA for 3 weeks), which will then put me in a position to print out and read the 4 main body chapters as a complete set. Then I can spend my time in LA writing the more meta Lifestylism chapter, which basically needs to be written/assembled from scratch. It may be a silly idea to try and write a new chapter while physically separated from my primary sources (my little box of anarchist ephemera + shelf of anarchist books) but hopefully I have enough notes on this stuff to carry me through a first draft. I’m bringing my Bookchin with me, but that’s it.

Ok, I’m feeling a surge of will power coming on. Better go harness it!