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THE PERSONAL, THE LOCAL, THE POLITICAL…

An exploration of the Reproduction and Transformation of Oppressive Systems
with a study of Community Politics in Birmingham


SYNOPSIS

This work is concerned with social change and the creation of alternatives. It explores the processes which reproduce or oppose oppressive structures and power relations in the arena of community politics.

The research develops a theoretical perspective based on the following assumptions: the nature of any change made depends, on the one hand, on the outcome of conflict between attempts to reproduce inegalitarian systems and, on the other, struggles to transform them. Conflict at the level of internal, (that is, of experienced or lived contradictions) leads either to acceptance of ruling ideology, or to a development of class consciousness, protest and a new worldview. Externally, social action (whether state policy or struggle) also possesses contradictory potential. Structure and relations, reason and practice, material conditions and the experience and interpretation of oppression are linked together in a web of inextricable and equal relationships.

Analysis begins by unravelling the relationship between theory and ideology, policy and the state. The focus then shifts from structures and theorising about the oppressed to consciousness and action as shaped by people in struggle. The case study follows the residents' loss of control over Saltley Action Centre (a CDP/ resident run Centre) to white, middle class men.

The thesis concludes that conflict is generated by the division of humanity into classes based on the cleavage between domination and submission. In Britain, this split is founded on a number of systems, the interdependent structures of which determine, as much as they are shaped by, power relations along the lines of social class, gender and race (also body ability, sexual orientation, etc). In the absence of overt oppression, class ineffectiveness is often caused by failures to transcend dominant worldviews. E.g., the socialist devaluation of personal experience (coupled with the identification of the Capital relations as the primary source of inequality) results in oppressed people continuing to trust external agents (experts and leaders) more than themselves; while attacks on one system (capitalism) are led by men conditioned by another (patriarchy) in attitudes incompatible with socialist values (caring, co-operation, sharing). There is no guarantee that alternative forms of resistance developed by the oppressed (the Women's Liberation Movement or Black struggles) will be successful; however, they do contain the germ of a new worldview capable of radically transforming society.

Electra Soady
Centre for Urban and Regional Studies,
University of Birmingham, 1984


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