When you open a copy of my thesis, 'A Reflexive and Value-Added Analysis of Contemporary Trotskyist Activism in Britain', this abstract will give you a snapshot of what it's all about.
Though neglected by social movement research and the burgeoning popular literature on global justice activism, Trotskyism is not just a persistent presence across a wide range of social movements but has often played an important role in initiating them. Nevertheless contemporary British politics has remained stubbornly resistant to widespread far left influence for a number of years, unlike France, Germany and Italy. This thesis explores Trotskyist activism in this largely unfavourable context by examining how Trotskyist activists became radicalised and how they have remained committed for long periods of time through the use of life history interviews with members of the Socialist Party (formerly Militant) and the Socialist Workers’ Party.
This thesis has three objectives. Addressing ongoing debates around the production of sociological knowledge, this thesis positions itself as an act of reflexive sociological practice. It locates sociology and sociologists within the configuration of prevailing power relations, discusses the positions in the relevant debates the discipline has adopted and, following Pierre Bourdieu, argues it is necessary for sociology to be open about the interests it has in the research it pursues. This is especially the case when one is studying social movements as some powerful interests may be (unwittingly) served by opening them up to public scrutiny. Conflicts between sociological interest and the interests of the movement are further illustrated with reference to the author’s position as a doctoral candidate and partisan of one of the organisations under study.
Secondly, intervening in current debates around the mobilisation of social movements the thesis develops a value-added model of individual radicalisation. This model ties together a number of processes identified by social movement research as being crucial for collective mobilisations, which in turn are modified and applied to the radicalising experiences of Trotskyist activists. This produces a non-linear but unified model that does not sacrifice detail and specificity to a single, overriding organisational principle.
Thirdly, a related but modified value-added model is developed to analyse individual experiences and strategies of Trotskyist commitment. This draws on existing social movement literature to a degree but involves some theoretical innovations of its own. It retains the non-linear and non-reductive advantages of its radicalisation counterpart. The thesis then interrogates the two models with general questions about their relationship to each other, the extent to which they can be applied beyond Trotskyist activism, whether they can be “up-scaled” for meso- and macro-level analysis, and the conceptual limits of the models.