People Build Better Than They Know
Society Becomes How We Behave
On Sunday 1 September 2012 I attended a Movement for Change training session at Grafton House, the home of the Labour Party in Lincoln. I had been ‘recruited’, over coffee, by Lucy Rigby, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Lincoln. In November 2011 I had joined the Labour Party after hearing Stephen Twigg MP announce, on Radio 4’s Today programme, that he was going to found an Office for Educational Improvement (I have been in irregular correspondence with his office about the OEI ever since, but that’s another story).
Movement for Change was founded by David Miliband MP as part of his unsuccessful bid to become the leader of the Labour Party. The person leading the training session was MFC’s chief executive Kathryn Perera; I had met Kathryn for a coffee and a chat on the Thursday prior to the workshop – an obvious MFC protocol for engaging local community activists.
On this bright autumn morning, Kathryn asserted that it was very unusual for people to give their time freely to a community project, and that we were very special. Where did we come from? Why were we passionate about our party/city/community/class? What did we want to change in our city?
Kathryn’s own story included a firebrand of a grandmother – denied her rights because of the sectarian and patriarchal politics of 1940/50s Ireland; parents who’d committed their working lives to youth work and education, as well as her own experiences as a Oxford graduate working in the third world and being a ex-barrister. She concluded by telling us how all of this had led to her decision to stand for Labour in Aylesbury – her home town – at the last election.
Consciously or not, Kathryn was employing an affective priming technique, to put fire in our bellies. People shared stories, resonances abounded, but I chose to respond differently.
When it came to my turn, I disagreed with Kathryn’s assertion that it was unusual for people to give their time freely to their community, and I also disagreed with the implicit suggestion that there must be something in an individual’s life history, or in our particular political persuasion, that sets us apart as ‘special’ from the rest of our community. Whilst I wanted to celebrate what I shared with those present, I also wanted to recognize what we had in common with those who were otherwise engaged, with other priorities, who think and live differently, on this particular Sunday morning.
I use an evolutionary framework to help me understand our social world. I use the same framework to help me build/create a more prosocial community. The strong links between individuals within groups are easily strengthened by such ‘training’, the weak links between groups, within the wider community, are more difficult to nurture, and are easily severed when the issues facing a community are framed through something as divisive as party politics.
At the end of the event we were asked to commit to attending the next workshop, and to commit to recruiting someone else to the cause. I said I’d invite someone to join us, but declined the invitation to commit to committing.
My communities are my biography.
The McAleavey Family
The Dixon Family
Redwood Primary School (CE)
St Georges Roman Catholic Church
St Georges Primary School (RC)
Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church (Sinfin)
A modern prefabricated structure, of little or no architectural or historic interest.
Drake Pack (Cub Scouts)
Sherwin (FC) and (RC)
Derby County (FC) Supporters ‘Key’ Club.
Sinfin Lane Youth Club
St Thomas More Secondary School (RC)
St Benedict Secondary School (RC)
Sinfin Moor Colts (FC)
East Midland’s Celtic Football Team (RC)
BurtonTechnical College (FE)
Gwent College of Higher Education (HE)
Cwmfelinfach Primary School (PT)
Gwent College of Tertiary Education (PT)
Liverpool John Moores University (FT)
Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool (VT)
WHSmiths, Liverpool (PT)
Winchmore Hill Secondary School, London (FT)
Tate Modern (Ind)
Branston Community College (FT/PT)
The Usher Gallery (Ind)
The Collection (Ind)
Emerging Talents (Ind)
In Response (Ind)
Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln (VT)
University of Lincoln (VT/PhD)
Lincoln Labour Party
Social Science Centre, Lincoln (Scholar)
The Pathways Centre
On Thursday, 4 October, at the end of the first session of the Social Science Imagination workshop, we were invited to prepare a 500 – 750 word ‘autobiography’. This is my response.