Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Another Abstract

Yours truly is giving a paper on the below topic tomorrow, as part of the Keele Sociology crew's rolling programme of seminars. Here's my (very short!) abstract.
Some Problems of Partisan Social Movement Research

Participatory research produces a range of difficulties that have been well documented by the sociological literature. These problems are especially acute when the research is taking place in charged political fields where the axis of partisanship goes beyond adherence to a set of radical political beliefs and is tightly fixed to a particular organisation. Thus the researcher must confront and negotiate two potential sites of tension, that arising between activists from rival organisations, and a more generalised contradiction between the objectives of the political field and the academic, a negotiation rendered all the more problematic by the researcher owing their political allegiances to one of the groups. This paper explores these problems through original life history data on contemporary Trotskyist activists.
Decoding the academese, basically what I'll be looking at is why nearly every Socialist Party member who was asked to participate in my project did so, and why so few Socialist Workers' Party comrades did, despite being honest and open about the aims of the research. And some other things too. I'll write about how the presentation goes at some point.


Darren said...

Just a thought.

I was thinking that maybe your research was a year too early.

With the current ructions going on within the SWP, I bet after the dust settles there will be a few more people in that tradition prepared to discuss and reflect on their political participation.

But who could have predicted this current crisis within the SWP? And it's the most serious internal crisis it's suffered since the time of the Workers League in the mid-seventies.

Phil BC said...

I know what you mean, Darren. When I was speaking to some Brum SWP comrades, it was just after Ger Francis had been expelled, and in one case it was me who had to tell her that this had been done!

But thinking about it, if I was sniffing around SWP'ers now wanting to talk to them about their lives as socialist activists, up to and including their recent experiences in Respect, I doubt I'd get anywhere to be honest. I can't even mention Galloway's name to the SWP'er in Keele Socialist Students without her getting very defensive and banging her head on the table!

Mark P said...


Just how many SWP members agreed to take part? And how many refused?

Was their primary reasoning a fear that you, as a Socialist Party member, were looking to stitch them up?

Phil BC said...

In total, I asked 28 comrades if they'd like to participate. 13 were SP, 13 SWP, and one apiece who were ex SP, and ex SWP.

Of the SP, 12 participated. Of the SWP, only four. Interestingly, the ex-SWP volunteered himself whereas the ex-SP comrade didn't answer my request.

Of the SWP comrades who agreed, I met two of them through mutual acquaintances. With the other two, I ambushed one of them on a demo, and then she put me in touch with another comrade who was interested. They did try and snowball for me, but had no joy with other SWP comrades. Of the others, they were people I basically had to cold call as there is no SWP to speak of in Stoke, and not enough SP comrades knew SWP members, so it is difficult to say they declined/didn't respond to requests because I'm an SP member, it could equally be that they were wary of talking to someone who they didn't know. But that said, SP comrades I didn't know before hand all responded positively. When I asked these comrades whether they would have taken part if I was an SWP'er, in another organisation, or independent, a good proportion of SP comrades said no. Membership matters.

Though I am disappointed so few SWP'ers participated, it has given my PhD an interesting angle I didn't really anticipate at the outset, and something I will hopefully be able to spin off as a paper.

Mark P said...

Is there some methodological reason why you couldn't just keep looking for more SWP members until your quota was full?

ian said...

Wouldnt it be easier to research and find an answer to the meaning of life?
Seriously though,
I can give you a one word answer to the 'tensions' between Trotskyist organisations.


Yes I know , crude and simplistic but
any student who studied the split in Militant in the early 90s will recognise that. Same can be said of the recent Respect fiasco.And the various WRP schisms.

Phil BC said...

Sorry for taking so long to reply, Mark. The reason why I didn't approach more SWPs was two fold. First, ideally I needed them to be in the West Mids and Manchester region, and second, I don't know many SWP comrades in this area. In fact, at the start of the project I knew only one comrade, and he blew me out. Plus I wasn't the most organised when it came to sorting stuff out, so when I think about it, it's a miracle I did manage to interview so many comrades at all.