Doctorate of Philosophy
School of Humanities and Social Inquiry
Miles, Ian, An activist reflects: personal narratives as a tool for social change, Doctorate of Philosophy thesis, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong, 2014. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/4200
In 20 years of activism I frequently found the quality of interpersonal relations to be so poor, and the damage to myself and others so profound, that I wondered whether struggles for social change were counterproductive. It seemed to me that projects for social change could benefit from some research into both the philosophies and techniques that had the capacity to create more ethical and productive social relations. I use the narratives of personal experience as the map for this thesis. In using my own experience as a guide I hope to show how the socially created and sustained self can use moral reflection and mutual recognition in a social context to pursue political and social change in a way that creates, sustains and repairs ethical and productive social relations. The schemes I suggest do not replace or surpass other ways of relating, but rather offer a guide for those who wish to see greater and more serious attention given to what constitutes good social relations in situations of conflict.
I begin by sharing a narrative about how I decided on my approach. I then explore the idea of mutual recognition as a response to the problem of domination. In particular I explore the work of Jessica Benjamin, who anchors her work in an exploration of infant identity development. Next, I explain the approach to conflict of the Alternatives to Violence Project in New South Wales, focusing on Restorative Practices as a mechanism for the application of mutual recognition in conflict situations. The work of Benjamin and the AVP (NSW) processes are critiqued and situated in the wider context of their relevant literatures. Through this process a methodology for the project emerges.
Using my own experiences, I demonstrate the self-recognition component of the mutual recognition process by giving detailed narratives of events in which I was involved. These episodes become case studies for demonstrating the techniques I have described, thereby showing that overlooked possibilities for social change exist within the narratives that construct and sustain the self. The thesis proceeds on the understanding that both social change and ethical conduct revolve around the ability of individuals to have a malleable, social and inter-subjectively realised self, and thus extends itself to the effort of expansively detailing how this may be done.
Using the Restorative Practices as a guide, I then exhaustively reconstruct the events portrayed with a view to demonstrating the possible way events could unfold if I had used the processes of AVP as a means to attempt mutually recognitive relations in the situations described. Finally, I discuss some of the limitations and implications of the model I have explicated. In particular I note some limitations in using ideas of rights and justice — two ideas often central to the work of social activists — and suggest an alternative, grounded in an appreciation of the contextual nature of ethics and actualised through greater skills in moral reflection and communication.