Collective relationships and the emotion culture of radical feminism in Britain, 1983-1991
Kalayji, Lisa Marie
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The political tensions between different feminisms, emerging virtually in tandem with the origins of 'second wave' women's movements themselves, continue to present challenges for cooperation and collective action. If flourishing feminist solidarities are to be forged, it is imperative to attend to these divisions, requiring a robust understanding of how they have developed. Though a growing body of research exists on the emotions of feminism, alongside a much more expansive one on emotions and social movements more generally, the emotions of specific feminist movements remain relatively under-explored. This research aims to generate a deeper understanding of radical feminism through a historical examination of its emotion culture during the crucial transition between the development of the ‘second wave’ of Women’s Liberation in the 1970s and the emergence of the ‘third wave’ in the 1990s. It takes radical feminist writings about the timely and controversial paradigms of medicine and psychoanalysis as a window on the movement’s emotion culture in the 1980s. Employing archival documentary methods and a case study approach, the research draws upon the pivotal radical feminist magazine Trouble and Strife as its sole data source. Exploring the text through literary ethnographic analysis and foregrounding a historical lens, it surfaces radical feminism’s emotion culture and highlights the way that its development was bound up with the specificities of its historical moment. The movement’s emotion culture was fundamentally a relational one, constituted through its specific political lens on the relationships in which radical feminists were entangled. As the 'heady days' of 1970s radical social movements gave way to the British state's turn to neoliberalism, the proliferating reach of its individualist ideological paradigm, and deepening divisions between the evolving strands of the 'second wave', radical feminists were confronted with an array of changing relationships to negotiate. Their uniquely uncompromising stance toward men, their long-established tense relationship with socialist and Marxist feminisms, and their critical view of ascending feminist uptake of psychoanalysis gave rise to an emotion culture which centred around their relationships with each of these. This research contributes to theories of emotions in social movements by focusing on the historically and ideologically specific, rather than emphasising the more general social movement strategic goals which are a common (though not universal) focus in this area. It adds to a small body of work on background emotions, and shows one way that they can be studied empirically. It also contributes to the growing body of work on feminism and emotions, and particularly to research which aims to explain the contentions between feminisms, as feminist researchers move away from the outmoded view of these contentions as simplistic generational divides and seek out explanations through the complex emotionality of feminist relationships.