Where are they now? Feeling Political: Intimacy, Everyday Life and Politics
Professor Julie-Marie Strange (Department of History, Durham University), Dr Laura Forster (Department of History, University of Manchester) and Dr David Minto (Department of History, Durham University)
This Development Project started life as an interdisciplinary reading group exploring how people ‘feel’ their way to political conviction. We were interested in intimacy – affects, encounters, atmospheres and so on – as something that shapes people’s conception of the world and their place within it. We were particularly interested in how intimacy can be generative of political belief and action in everyday contexts.
In April 2023 we hosted an interdisciplinary workshop with colleagues based in History, Literature, Anthropology and Museum Studies from institutions across the UK. Participants worked on a range of subjects, from heritage ‘nostalgia’ to queer domesticities, organised politics to Anglican confession, radical cultures to children in care, and more. At some level, we were all interested in how intimacies shape political subjectivities. Our objective was to explore how we might define ‘political intimacies’ to bring meta-narratives of political development and allegiance into dialogue with the everyday. We explored keywords, creative methods and how we might engage with intimacy as a category of analysis.
We developed these questions, with reference to a microcosm of ‘Feeling Political’, in a second workshop in July 2023 when we focused on a specific point and place in time: the Miners’ Strike in the Northeast of England, 1984-85. This workshop brought academics, museum curators, archivists, arts organisations and NGOs into conversation about the heritage and ongoing impact of the Miners’ Strike in the Northeast. Billed as ‘The Miners’ Strike from the Margins’, we were particularly interested in exploring the everyday and intimate politics of the strike in the region and its commemoration. The memory of the strike is dominated by the image of the heroic miner. This narrative does vital emotional and ideological work in a region utterly decimated by pit closures and associated deindustrialisation and that continues to be characterised by profound disenfranchisement and uncertainty. But the narrative can also obscure complex challenges brought on by economic decline, bitter conflict within families and communities (sometimes ongoing, even now), and the manifold knock-on effects of the strike on other industries, people and places. Major political and economic change intersected with many different kinds of intimacies, creating – and continuing to create – specific political beliefs and identities. What became strikingly clear, especially from participants who currently work with young people in County Durham, was a lack of intergenerational communication about more diverse experiences of the strike (including looking beyond the miner and miners’ families) and, importantly, the lack of opportunities for young people in the region now. The core question arising from the workshop was ‘How do you imagine a future when all that exists is the past?’ This question fuses everyday feelings of alienation with a desire for change.
‘Feeling Political’ continues to grow. We are trying to harness the momentum of the first workshop with a bid for an AHRC Curiosity award, developing dialogue specifically around radical politics and the intimacies of friendship, hospitality and food. An AHRC bid around the everyday politics of heritage nostalgia is currently in development between History, Anthropology and Beamish: the Living Museum of the North. This project examines current inclusions and exclusions in the heritage of everyday life in a context of post-industrialisation while asking how efforts can be more inclusive to avoid perpetuating existing hierarchies or creating new ones. ‘The Miners’ Strike from the Margins’ workshop subsequently developed into a successful bid to the ESRC IAA fund. This project will work with young people in Durham to explore how heritage can create a space for intergenerational communication about the conflicted pasts, reflect the concerns and priorities of young people, and imagine a broader range of futures.