Sisterhood and After: Individualism, Ethics and The Oral History of Women's Liberation

Jolly, Margaretta, Russell, Polly and Cohena, Rachel (2012) Sisterhood and After: Individualism, Ethics and The Oral History of Women's Liberation. Social Movement Studies, 11 (2). pp. 211-226. ISSN 14742837

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In this article, we address the question of ethics in the study of social movements from the perspective of 'Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project'. This three-year project will record life history interviews of fifty key activists in the UK for the British Library Sound Archive. Our research is inspired by the democratic ideals of oral historical method and of feminism itself. As we shall show, both of these provide tools for answering the ethical challenges of studying of a social movement. Yet, while many have seen a natural alliance between feminism and oral history's ideals, we have discovered possible tensions that echo classic debates within the movement itself, particularly in relation to the status and meaning of individual experience. We analyse this in relation to two practical questions: the selection of interviewees, and our life history method. Turning to other feminist scholars of women's movements, we identify four broad justifications for focusing on the individual: a political understanding of the personal; situated knowledge; an investment in interview relationships and a psycho-social framework of analysis. Testing these justifications against some of the oral histories we have gathered, we conclude that they go a long way to answering the paradox of studying a movement through a few individuals' stories. But we are frank about the ethical as well as intellectual limits that a life history method imposes on capturing social movements. Examples from interviews with Mia Morris, Beatrix Campbell, Lesley Abdela, Ellen Malos and Juliet Mitchell will illuminate the history at stake.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Special Issue: The Ethics of Research on Activism
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Media and Film
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research
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Depositing User: Margaretta Jolly
Date Deposited: 30 May 2012 09:03
Last Modified: 30 Jul 2018 15:42
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