Monday, 18 December 2006

PhD Thesis

Last week Brian C asked me what my PhD thesis is about. Hopefully this extract from the letter I send out to prospective participants/victims makes matters clear and will provide background to the abstract I posted up the other day.

I might as well use the occasion of this post to fish for some participants. If you're a current SWP member with 3 or more years membership under your belt and fancy being part of the project do get in touch! (Sorry SP comrades, I'm over-subscribed already!)


Research Project – Information for Interviewees


Subject: Socialist Activists in Britain – Radicalisation and Commitment

October 2005 – September 2008 (doctoral thesis funded by the Economic and Social Research Council).

Researcher: Phil BC – involved in labour movement politics since 1995, former T&G shop steward. From January 2006 a member of the Socialist Party.

Background: As an activist who is involved in a variety of campaigns I am particularly interested in how socialists have managed to retain a commitment to independent working class politics at a time when socialism has dropped off the mainstream political agenda in Britain. I believe the academic study of social movements can provide a number of useful concepts to understand how radicalisation can develop into long-term commitment, as well as identify obstacles that tend to crop up in the course of an activist’s career.

Socialist Activists: There has been a lot of debate within social movement theory over the last 20 years about the decline of class-based mobilisation and the emergence of new kinds of politics ostensibly concerned with ‘post-material’ issues. Though there is some truth to this I believe the case is often overstated. For example if these claims were true how to account for the dogged persistence of Trotskyist activism not just in Britain, but also across most advanced industrial societies?

Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party: I am focussing on SP and SWP members because they continue to be the most influential, visible and successful organisations to come out of the British Trotskyist tradition. Both parties are active across a large number of campaigns and often play key mobilising and leading roles.

Commitment: A lot of talk in academic circles often cites the persistence of networks among activists as an explanation of sustained commitment. The best way to investigate this is by talking with individual activists. In addition, unlike the kinds of activists who are the subjects of much empirical social movement studies organised Trotskyists are part of a disciplined political party. I’m particularly interested in the personal and political ties such membership entails.

Generation, Education, Class, and Gender: As no two activists are the same I wish to compare accounts along these lines, both within and across parties. This will help determine whether there are significant commonalities or divergences pertaining to radicalisation and commitment.

Methods: This project is primarily qualitative in character. Speaking to and spending time with people can only really answer the kinds of questions I’m interested in. The research will also be making use of various materials published by each party, but these are for describing party histories and current political positions. At times key events held up by the party will inform some of the questioning.

Life history interviews: People’s biographies, views on socialist activism in general - each transcribed, anonymised (where the participant so wishes), and made available to the interviewee.

Participant observation: Going to meetings and participating in party actions – not a major part of the study but can be used to illustrate particular styles of activism indicated by interviewees.


What use is this research to activists?

For socialist activists in particular the project will have a number of outcomes:

Showing how experience of activism can change people by empowering them.

The life histories this will provide can serve as a record of the oft-neglected role Trotskyism has and continues to play in a number of working class struggles and social movements.

The comparison of life histories across generation, education, class, gender, and party could help socialists develop a more systematic awareness of the issues activists are likely to face during the course of their life. It is also to be hoped that it can contribute toward collaboration and trust between socialists from different traditions.

8 comments:

voltaires_priest said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
voltaires_priest said...

Have you tried asking on Lenny Lenin's blog? Most of the people who post on it are in the SWP. You could try on mine as well but the SWP'ers who come there are generally kinda "combat ready", so you might not get quite such a willing response... :D

Phil said...

It's the combative ones I'm after! ;)

Jim Jay said...

It's almost worth rejoining to take part [thinks for a moment] oh, no, it isn't

Brian C said...

Are you surveying people who have been in both organisations? There are a few Socialist Party members who are ex-SWP, and I would guess a few the other way around too.

Also how far along are you? Have you noticed any significant differences between your respondents from each organisation?

Phil said...

I'm not surveying. I'm interviewing each respondent in depth - two 90 minute interviews followed by a shorter one of 40-60 mins in length where we talk about matters arising from the transcripts, other issues and the whole experience of participating in the project.

Sadly all the comrades I've interviewed so far are SP and it has been their only left organisation. That said there's been plenty of reflection on the practice of other groups, including the SWP. I'm pretty sure it's data from this line of questionning that will show up the biggest differences.

Eddie Truman said...

It seems very strange to me that this research should exclude many thousands of people who are in neither organisation but who have decades of experience in UK left politics.
The very foundations of your research appears flawed from the start.

voltaires_priest said...

If you wanted to ask anyone from other groups, the AWL would probably talk to you - go via their website and email their office.