Sociology Seminar 9 November 2011

Dr Sian Moore (London Metropolitan University)
Restoring Political Subjectivity – interest and identity formation in trade union activism
4.30pm, Room 916, Adam Smith Building

In the 1970s and 1980s industrial sociology focussed upon workers’ consciousness and the extent to which it could be defined in Marxist terms as trade union or class consciousness. In the 30 years since then this concern has been largely displaced by a conceptualisation of class as a sociological or cultural category and by a preoccupation with social identity or identities, of which class may be one. Further, identity has been seen as a product of discourse and as being constructed through narrative, divorced from material or collective interest. The outcome has been to deny the role that ideology can play in shaping political subjectivity and in particular of hegemony as an explanatory concept in which material interests are central.

This presentation will explore the subjectivities of contemporary trade union activists including Equality Reps, ULRs, migrant worker activists and those emerging from trade union recognition campaigns. Based on the evidence of 30 life histories, it seeks to understand how activists situate their lives within structures constituted on the basis of class, gender and race and to capture the way these categories can shape the articulation of their interests and identities. Whilst reaffirming the importance of ‘interest’ the presentation will probe the values of activists and how these transcend instrumentality and are informed by a commitment to collectivism and wider ideological frameworks, albeit the ‘abstract ideologies that circulate within the labour movement’ (Kelly 1998: 29). It is argued that the interplay of structure, agency and social action has been recast over these decades, accompanied by a shift in language. While the testimonies of older activists unearthed residual ideological perspectives based upon class, gender and race that had been silenced, the ideological frameworks of younger activists were significantly more tentative, with activism based upon experiences of injustice and discrimination in the workplace articulated through more abstract notions of fairness and equality. Here generational change in values and language implies the weakness of alternative political ideologies, but the continuing importance of work to political subjectivity remains evident.

All Welcome

Supported by the McFie Bequest

Any enquiries about the seminar programme should be addressed to:
Dr Kirsteen Paton, Sociology, Adam Smith Building, University of Glasgow G12 8RT
Tel: 0141 330 5070 or email:

First published: 4 November 2011