Beyond the Fragments: 45 Years On
Friday 28 June 2024
People’s History Museum, Manchester
Keynote speakers: Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal, and Hilary Wainwright
2024 marks the 45th anniversary of the publication of the seminal socialist-feminist text, Beyond the Fragments: Feminism and the Making of Socialism. Within its pages, activists Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal and Hilary Wainwright wove sharp political analysis and personal reflections in their respective essays. The text sought to unify the various radical social and political movements of the 1960s and 1970s, to forge a new socialist politics for the 1980s. In doing so, the publication inspired wide-ranging discussion across the left, sparking a series of highly-attended conferences, and the formation of long-lasting activist networks.
Coinciding with Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 election victory, the text is now a richly insightful historical document, highlighting the often-forgotten radicalism that survived (and in some cases flourished) in the inhospitable climate of Thatcher’s Britain. For historians, Beyond the Fragments challenges pessimistic narratives of socialist decline and Neoliberal triumph, and provides a framework for some of the extraordinary solidarity movements (around the miners strike, Greenham Common, and latterly the anti-globalisation movement) that followed. For theorists, it raises fascinating questions about the influence of second-wave feminism on political organising, the limits of Leninism, and the value of life-writing for informing political strategy. For contemporary activists, it may also still offer an inspiring and insightful guide to creating a socialist politics that empowers and unifies diverse and fragmentary experiences of oppression.
This conference aims to reflect on the insights of Beyond the Fragments and its wider influence on radical politics (in Britain and around the world) since its publication. It aims to draw upon and consider the wider themes the text directly addressed and more implicitly embodied. Grounding the text in its wider historical context, we also aim to explore how radical political cultures and spaces helped shape both the book’s creation, and facilitated the wider movements that came from it. Thinking more broadly, we hope this conference highlights the value of history and historical experience in informing activism today, opening up dialogues between past and present activists and historians around new ways of radical organising.
We invite submissions for 15 minute papers, chiefly focused on one of the three essays from the original publication, and relevant wider themes:
- Sheila Rowbotham, ‘The Women’s Movement and Organizing for Socialism’ – possible themes: feminist political organising and its influence, socialist-feminism and the Far Left, life-writing and activist memoir.
- Lynne Segal, ‘A Local Experience’ – possible themes: local feminism(s) and socialism(s), activist spaces, place building and grassroots organising in the community.
- Hilary Wainwright, ‘Moving Beyond the Fragments’ – possible themes: networks of solidarity and intersectionality, engagement with the Labour Party and other political/state institutions, organising within local government.
Contributions are welcome from historians, theorists and activists. We are open to all, especially Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers. We also encourage proposals for papers drawing on personal activist experience as well as academic research. Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words, along with a brief biography, to email@example.com by 1st February 2024.
Thanks to funding from NWCDTP, the Past & Present Society, and the Society for the Study of Labour History, we are able to fund travel and accommodation expenses for speakers whose institutions will not support this. We will prioritise Postgraduate students and Early Career Researchers. Please let us know if you would like to be considered when sending your abstract. There will not be creche provision, but young children are welcome at this event.
Held at the People’s History Museum, the conference will also feature the opportunity to engage with original Beyond the Fragments material, correspondence and ephemera from Hilary Wainwright’s papers archived at the Labour History Archive & Study Centre.
We are also planning a follow-up informal workshop to discuss the wider themes around Beyond the Fragments, which we hope will inspire further projects and networking. This may include the history of socialist-feminism, the Left, and other social movements since 1979, and how Beyond the Fragments has directly or indirectly shaped contemporary forms of political organising. We welcome all early expressions of interest, including proposals for panels, roundtable discussions, and participatory workshops. A separate Call for Papers will be distributed in the coming months.
Twitter and Instagram: @beyondthefrags