The Articulation of Interests
The crucial moment in the social dynamic of politics is the
constitution of interests. In chapter 6 interests were defined in terms of the inequalities constructed by gender relations. At that level the interests are inert, and though they structure practice it is only as the external conditions of practices which are directed to other ends. In this sense we might speak of latent interests and demobilised politics.
When practice is, however, directed to these conditions as its object, the interest is articulated in a collective project. The most obvious example is a social movement like gay liberation and women’s liberation. As proposed in chapter 9 a collective project may also take an institutionalized form. It may be embodied in the functioning of a bureaucracy or the structure of a labour market, and may be pursued as a project by the defence of those institutional arrangements. Broadly the interests of heterosexual men in sexual politics are articulated in this way. There is no need for an anti-liberation movement to defend patriarchy.
The constitution of an interest as a collective project requires awareness of inequalities and the social oppositions they define. While that awareness may be aroused by any event – a police raid, a beauty contest or whatever – to clarify and sustain it requires intellectual work. In practice much of this is done by specialists, the groups discussed in chapter 11. Thus intellectuals have often played a strategic role in the constitution of social interests. The notion of the ‘organic intellectual’ is best understood in these terms.
The classification of intellectuals suggested in chapter 11 is related to forms of politics. Much of the interplay between social interests is what Gramsci called for class relations a ‘war of position’, in contrast to the ‘war of manoeuvre’. The tacit politics of bureaucracies and families, for instance, seem constant though the conflicts are real. Both the repetition and the conflict are acknowledged in the folklore of the ‘battle of the sexes’ where drunken husbands, wives with rolling-pins, flirtatious ‘girls’ and dim-witted boyfriends perform their endless ballet.
In such politics the management function of intellectuals is uppermost. Priests negotiate the tensions of the village; psychotherapists talk out the tensions of the urban rich and drug or hospitalize the urban poor; social planners fine-tune the welfare system to mop up the direst effects of structural inequality. The interests of dominant groups can be represented simply by providing rationalizations of the structure as a whole. Such theory takes a
degree of naturalization for granted, suppresses the question of interests and concerns itself with explaining deviations. Sex role theory is a classic solution to these requirements, and can be regarded as an organic ideology of the gender regime in the modern welfare state.
The contrast with the ‘utopias’ discussed in chapter 11, and the crisis tendencies underlying them, is obvious. The interests of subordinated groups are capable of articulation as collective projects which break the bounds of the existing gender order. This may be only in fantasy, as in the classic literary utopias. But the crisis tendencies discussed in chapter 7 create real conditions for transformative practice. Here the formation of a collective project involves the articulation of some group’s interest in a changed gender order, defining a historical trajectory from deprivation or repression in the present to a future of equality or liberation.
In this context the function of theorization is uppermost in intellectual work. Simply to formulate such an interest requires some mental distance from the current gender order, comparing it with conceivable alternatives. In theorizing the existing order the conflict of interest moves to the centre of attention. Categorical – ism is an understandable result, as we see in radical feminism. But categoricalism creates difficulties with the need to grasp processes of transformation and the construction of political forces. So even when ascendant this kind of theory is unlikely to be under challenge or constantly modified in practice.
The broad contrast just drawn has two major qualifications. First, the interests of groups advantaged in the gender order may also be articulated in a transcendent project. A case in point is the contest for hegemony discussed in chapter 6, the displacement of authoritarian patriarchy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by a ma^scuTi^^ technical rationality and
institutionalized thrompTbureaucracy and markets. Among other things this involved the creation of utopias – social contract theory and political economy – which articulated the interests of the ascending groups of men. Another case is masculinity therapy and the ‘men’s liberation’ movement of the 1970s. Here transcendence was pursued because the existing gender order was felt to have become unworkable; the modernization of masculinity was required as a rescue operation.
The second qualification is that the inert interest defined by existing patterns of inequality can always be articulated in more
than one way, as the history of ideological conflict shows. For instance, a common response to crisis tendencies is fear of losing what you already have. Right-wing sexual politics attempts to articulate women’s interests in this way, with some success; some of the bitterest opposition to feminism has come from other women. The ‘threat to the family’ is a threat to the mother where femininity is defined in relation to childcare and domestic work and where ‘the family’ is the only sphere in which women have any power.
These possibilities mean that the pattern of sexual politics cannot be deduced mechanically from structural analysis. The line-up of political forces is always a question of how interests have been constituted, and what alliances are constructed between them. Equal opportunity programmes in the state, to take one example, developed through an alliance between technocratically oriented men pursuing efficiency and professional women pursuing women’s interests as articulated in liberal feminism.
To make this abstract argument concrete, the following sections examine two patterns of political practice, one demobilized and the other highly mobilized. The choice is not arbitrary. I would argue that a combination between the two groupings discussed here is required for a general transformation of the relations between women and men; though to make it happen, both forms of politics would themselves have to change.