Friday, 16 August 2013

British culture; actants. Under re-construction

Rachelle Hope Saltzman's A Lark for the Sake of Their Country: the 1926 General Strike Volunteers in Folklore and Memory is a study of the activities and attitudes of the hundreds of thousands of strike volunteers, those men and women enrolled by a shadowy government organisation to keep basic services running, for example, by driving lorries, delivering supplies and running canteens (Pedersen, 2013).

The book allows a careful examination of the celebratory narrative which holds that the British workman could never be turned into a Russian Red or the British businessman and country gentleman into an Italian fascist.

In part, it is interesting to highlight the actors in that narrative, the workman, the businessman, and the gentleman, and to consider their respective modes of action as well as their assumed consorted inter-action.

British culture, so the story goes, was immunised against the Continental viruses of open class antagonism and political extremism. [The very same viruses, it might be implied, that affect 'Continental philosophy'.]

The General Strike emerges, then, as a ritual enactment of the politics of class, the volunteers taking on those tasks in the belief that they were defending the country (organisation and homogenisation within place, culture and language) against the forces of chaos (disorganisation and heterogenisation through dis-place-ment, confusion and babelisation).

Following De Certeau's suggestions in The Practice of Everyday Life, we might wish to continue to look at the ritual enactments that take place within that territory (place, culture, language) defined as Britain, or British soil, to consider how it continues to immunise itself against external or foreign viruses, and perhaps even foreign bodies; or fails to do so.

Following Chantal Mouffe, critiquing communist totalitarianism, and Hannah Arendt, critiquing fascist totalitarianism, while opening a potential path to feminism through critiques of the totalitarianising body, we might wish to challenge the assumption of a consensual basis for the politics of class, and (participatively) observe the bodily and spatial politics by means of which such realities as class differences are (repeatedly, iteratively, alteratively) enacted.

By doing so, we might engage otherwise with the processes by means of which the implicit, shadowy organisation of inter-action under a 'British' regime is organised, making explicit the rules that sustain the mock-mediaeval, monarchically-derived (mon-an-archic and mon-an-arche-ic, we might joke), trompe l'oeil, poshocratic dramaturgy within which 'British' life is lived.

In this way, we are formed into particular classes of human being, as economic entities, who are ever more dissociated into body-fragments oscillating against the backdrop of the totalitarian body of the imaginary body-politic. We thereby continue to repress ourselves, being unable to cohere a set of bodily movements, including articulating linguistic constructs in speech and writing, to form a political act.

We only occasionally have access to the (foreign) language (tongue) by means of which we might, not liberate ourselves, but find different criteria and frameworks for our decision making and inter-action.

All the while remembering that we are not originators of action but (citational) actor-vectors, engaging with intentional acts and facing up to the unintended consequences of those actions; playing with our errors and errancy, in the ongoing processes of formal and informal exchange.

How do we fit this into a learning process, or a learning design?


Arendt, H. (1998). The Human Condition 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Arendt, H. (1958). The Origins of totalitarianism 2nd ed., Cleveland and New York: Meridian Books.

De Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Mouffe, C., (2006). Agonistic public spaces: democratic politics and the dynamics of passions. In Thinking Worlds: An International Symposium on Philosophy, Politics, and Aesthetic Theory. Moscow: Interros Publishing Program.

Pedersen, S. (2013). Triumph of the poshocracy. London Review of Books, 35 (15), pp.18-20.

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