Spaces, bodies and emotions: the everyday culture of democracy in 1980's London

This paper is built around two stories from London in the 1980s, one about a childcare centre in Wandsworth, the other about a housing estate in Tower Hamlets In October 1982, the Greater London Council’s Women’s Committee approved a grant of £11,000 to the Hill Side Common Ownership Day Nursery, in Balham, Wandsworth. It had asked for funds to acquire new premises and to employ extra staff. The Nursery hoped to relieve the “burden of constant childcare” on “non-working mothers” and increase the “employment opportunities of women with young children” A huge part of the work of GLC committees like the Women’s Committee was to administer grants to local groups. In the case of the Women’s Committee, often as not this meant giving money to childcare centres. In 1984, 60% of the Women’s Committee’s grant budget was spent on funding independent childcare centres; by the time the GLC was abolished in 1986, 12% of all full-time childcare places in London were financed by GLC grants The second story concerns the Lincoln Estate in Tower Hamlets, about which, in 1984, the GLC’s Ethnic Minorities Committee heard evidence of racial harassment against twenty-five families of Bangladeshi origin: Nearly all the [Bangladeshi] tenants…had experienced some form of attack on their person or property ranging from attacks on children; to spitting; jostling; name-calling; [to] lighted fireworks; lighted matches…being put through the letter box….Two tenants have been fired at by air guns….The Bangladeshis …claimed that racial harassment had become an integral part of their everyday life on Lincoln estate. Women live like prisoners They do not dare to go out…Children are often not allowed to play outdoors unless in very large groups outside the flats because of the risk of abuse and attacks. Bangladeshi men often do their shopping in groups and come back in a taxi The point of the harassment, perpetrated by youths, adult men and women, was to “drive the Bangladeshis off the estate”. A few members of the local tenants’ association, for example, “voiced strong opposition to Asian families being there in the first place”; some even stated that “if they saw incidents of harassment, they certainly would do nothing to stop it.” In its working paper of last year, the MBS encouraged us to reflect upon the “cultures of democracy” in modern Britain, noting “the diverse and hierarchical patterns of democratic participation ” and the “multiple sets of values – the sense of being valued – that shaped everyday life” So having been so encouraged and having duly reflected, today I want to talk about how the two stories I have told speak to these questions in different ways I am particularly interested in two things: first, how “cultures of democracy” are inflected by space, emotion and the body; and, second, how we might explore the politics of everyday life, by which I mean how power, agency and ideology gather round the experiences, rhythms and demands of everyday life, like “dwelling, moving about”, working and parenting When I thought of a title for this talk – a title which I dearly wish I could change to ‘What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?’, for reasons that may become apparent – I flew, however ponderously, rather too close to the sun and thought I would talk about the body. I’m not going to talk about the body. I am going to talk about space and emotions. That being said, the stories I have told are about the body. The racial discrimination faced by Bangladeshi tenants on the Lincoln Estate included “attacks on the person”, as well as threats of physical violence. Funding the nursery in Balham was intended to relieve the burden of “constant childcare”, a burden that was physical as much as figurative It is worth recounting how one Lewisham mother, a worker in a local co-op, characterized a typical day in 1984: “I have to get up early,

get the kids ready and take them to school, come here, go home, do my work there, pick the kids up from school and make their dinner When I get home from catering I’m so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open.” So, even though I will do it no justice in this paper, the body does figure in my thinking about “cultures of democracy” on the ground I will talk more about space, by which I mean actual material space – the physical and built environment – but I also use the term to indicate contestation or struggle. In the stories I have told, the acquisition of property was central to the aims of the nursery, while on the Lincoln estate, space was the point of contestation between tenants and the catalyst for deeply-felt fears on both sides Space was also fundamental to what the GLC did in the 1980s. Much of the funding given out to local groups by the GLC between 1981 and 1986 went towards the purchase, rent or upkeep of property. The Hillside nursery received £7,500 to rent a new property, for example, and one solution proposed to the problem of racial harassment on the Lincoln Estate was to establish a women’s centre, not only a physical space where Bangladeshi women could feel safe, but also as a means of fostering a multiracial community through the use of a common space, as had apparently happened on the Berner Estate in Poplar Local groups and the GLC thus created new spaces in 1980s London: centres for children, women, gay and lesbian people, pensioners, the unemployed, ethnic minorities and youth Acquiring material space in this way afforded these groups what has been called a “politics of recognition”, giving them both visibility and safety, a dynamic that was central, for example, in the social and political history of gays and lesbians after 1967, as Matt Cook and Lucy Robinson have pointed out, and what was absent from pre-1967 queer life, as Matt Houlbrook has shown. This is also an example of how London witnessed what Michael Keith and Steve Pile call the “spatialized politics of identity” The politics of space in 1980s London had particularly sharp edges because GLC-funded centres competed with an emerging neo-liberal landscape, seen in the redevelopment of the City of London, the establishment of Urban Development Corporations, and the promotion of the private housing market, as work by Sam Wetherell and Anna Minton has shown I am also interested in bringing emotion to bear upon thinking about cultures of democracy There is, of course, much discussion across a variety of literatures about emotion and the links between emotions and politics. I have been fairly catholic in my approach in this paper to what counts as an emotion, including the usual suspects – love, anger and fear – but also considering empathy/compassion and hope, following research on emotions in various fields I am interested in the work that such emotions do politically, whether it is in what Barbara Rosenwein has called ‘emotional communities’, built out of “systems of feeling”, “modes of emotional expression”, and “affective bonds”, the formation of emotional regimes and refuges, as William Reddy has charted, or Ute Frevert’s argument for a “dynamic and mobile” “historical economy of emotions” Emotion linked what might seem like disparate things: the funding of a childcare centre in 1982 and the experience of racial harassment in 1984. In the example of childcare, we might think first of parental love, but we should also think of empathy for the “burden” of women involved with childcare. In the example of the Lincoln Estate, the emotions are more stark: fear and hatred. In both cases, I will argue, emotion was crucial to political agency and democratic culture. In this, I am indebted

to important work in British history on emotions and to recent scholarship on socialist ideology, sociology and psychology. Research in different geographic fields, by, for example, David Ost on Poland, Marina Sitrin on Argentina and Nicole Eustace on colonial British North America has also been very useful in showing how emotions, space and politics work together The feminist theorist Sara Ahmed has spoken of “affective economies” in which “emotions do things…they align individuals with communities…through the very intensity of their attachments.” Ahmed explores how emotions circulate, how they work as “social and cultural practices” and how they “accumulate”, in each respect affecting the social world. As Ahmed and other authors argue, emotions also do these things in physical space It is this movement between emotions, space and politics that I am exploring (provisionally) in this paper, whether, following Ahmed, it is termed ‘affective economy’, or by others, ‘affective environment’, or the term I prefer because it suggests a dynamic interaction between diverse elements, affective ecology In 1980s London, I will argue, experience, emotion and space formed an affective ecology that helped shape and was shaped by a particular culture of democracy The touchstone of this affective ecology was everyday life A few years ago, Matthew Hilton wrote of seeing “in the everyday a whole host of interactions…from which politics…emerges”. Politics are often “hidden”, as Alice Kaplan and Kristin Ross have similarly written, “in the everyday, exactly where it is most obvious”. Such everyday politics become, I think, more visible when everyday life itself becomes confrontational or “interrupted and dysfunctional” , as Ben Highmore has written Confrontation, interruption and dysfunction can be seen, for example, inflecting the commonplace interactions of the stories I have told: in Wandsworth, going to work, seeking work, looking after children; or, on the Lincoln Estate, simply dwelling or going beyond one’s door, playing in the street, shopping These quotidian interactions became struggles and confrontations, the source of dysfunction, and, not least, they become laden with emotion, movingly expressed, for example, in one quote from the stories I have told: “[the women] do not dare to go out” This is the voice of what Raymond Williams called “meanings and values as they are actively lived and felt”, a ‘structure of feeling’ If we take one everyday experience – childcare – and think about what happens in Wandsworth in 1982 and in Tower Hamlets in 1984, we might see just how much is at stake: having your children looked after in Wandsworth so that you can work, or feeling safe enough in Tower Hamlets to allow your children to play outside There is, I will argue, an affective ecology that surrounds such moments, a diverse and complex dynamic among individuals, communities

and the state to address those profound material and emotional concerns, thus, a politics This affective ecology also demonstrates the efficacy of social movements working at the municipal level in the 1980s, such as Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation. In this way, making the personal political involved foregrounding emotions and finding material space in the city But I want to talk more about the role of the state, because it helped shape and was shaped by this affective ecology In the 1980s, the GLC explicitly concerned itself with the politics of everyday life There’s a lovely quote from an unlikely poetic source – a memorandum on ‘The London Industrial Strategy’ – in which the GLC admitted it could not “deliver utopias by decree in one city”, but that it could, in areas such as transport, work and culture, “enable aspirations for a better way to take shape, grow in strength and find a life of their own”. The memo evoked that vision by talking about a Women’s Cooperative Guild tea-towel, an object compelling to the memo’s authors because you could “hold the utopian vision every time you…do the washing up” And the GLC’s hopes in this regard had an explicitly emotional context: “to enable people to enjoy pleasant relations and connections in the course of doing everyday tasks…encouraging association, trust, pleasure and mutual aid.” Towards this end, the GLC used grants to “support self-help initiatives by local groups” Between 1981 and 1986, the funds available for this were considerable. When it was established in 1982, for example, the Women’s Committee had a staff of four and a budget of £300,000; by the time of the GLC’s abolition, the Women’s Committee staff numbered one hundred and its annual budget was £16 million Of course, spending on grants had occurred well before the Labour GLC, but what was different was the scale of expenditure, helped by tax revenue left over from a failed attempt to subsidize transport fares. In this way, to adapt an argument of David Harvey, a particular kind of urban development in London between 1981 and 1986 was built on a social democratic, rather than capitalist surplus. The important work by Daisy Payling on Sheffield has afforded another example of such initiatives at the local level What may also have been different was the intent This commitment to large-scale spending put the GLC on a collision course with the Conservative government, leading to abolition in 1986 The media generated an image of a radical, excessive Left in power at the local level, doling out money to organizations such as Babies Against the Bomb, the English Collective of Prostitutes and so on This picture was, unsurprisingly, a false one: most of the grants money distributed by the Women’s Committee, for example, went to that most radical of ends, childcare, or, on reflection, perhaps state-funded childcare is radical Another charge against the grants process was that it was chaotic, slipshod in its execution and that it was simply driven by a desire to, in the words of one critical observer, “get the money out of the building” However, the GLC grants process might also be seen as an attempt to redefine the relationship between the state and citizen. In the 1970s and 1980s, Stuart Hall and Sheila Rowbotham had critiqued the corporatist or “interventionist state” or a welfare state that had “the power to declare what is someone else’s welfare”. The grants programme of the GLC was a different beast altogether, using state money to animate local groups. “The purpose of power”, Nye Bevan once remarked, “is to be able to give it away”. If this is

so, the GLC gave away a lot of power. Getting the money out of the building was also getting power out of County Hall, a devolution of the state It was a means by which the GLC consciously hoped to deliver “more responsive forms of state care” and explore “a more democratic approach to planning”. This recalls Stuart Hall’s hopeful vision of 1988 of “public intervention” enabling a pluralistic social democracy driven by “different tastes, purposes, destinations, desires” The hundred flowers that the GLC helped plant through the grants process were undoubtedly intended as a defiant bloom set against neo-liberalism The 1980 Local Government, Planning and Land Act and the 1981 London Docklands Development Corporation encouraged the building of spectacular temples of neo-liberalism such as Broadgate and Canary Wharf. Resistance to this came at the local level with organizations like the Newham Docklands Forum, which managed to establish some humble counterweights to these capitalist leviathans in the form of “a Plan Centre, a laundrette, a training centre and a crèche” It’s not too fanciful to suggest that the GLC grants process similarly helped construct an alternative political landscape in London, whose unspectacular monuments included women’s centres and nurseries. To again quote David Harvey, a ‘right to the city’ involved placing particular kinds of social processes and relationships into “spatial forms” In this way, local social democracy was made material Thinking about what happens in London in the 1980s might help us think a little differently about democratic participation in the post-war period, both in terms of the state and the citizen In his book, Lost Freedom (2013), Mathew Thomson suggests we might “extend our view [of the postwar settlement]…beyond the traditional territory of social and economic policy to include powerful structures of feeling”, thinking particularly of the agency of ordinary people in the “fault line” between state and citizen Following this, I am interested in the “powerful structures of feeling” that envelop the two stories of the Hillside day nursery and racism on the Lincoln Estate and the way these affective ecologies might illuminate the relationship between citizen and state In the time I have left, I want to explore this in a brief fashion through a more detailed discussion of emotion, space and politics in terms of childcare and racial harassment The way that I am getting at this methodologically is by looking at grant applications to the GLC. These required local groups seeking funding to describe themselves, their objectives, their achievements, the community they spoke for and the ends to which the funds would be used. At the same time, we have the responses of the granting bodies to these applications, so we can see both self-description and the institutional reaction The other context I wish to emphasize, because I think it framed particular issues, is the highly charged affective atmosphere of 1980s London. In the 1960s and 1970s, protest and social movements adopted a more emotionally intense language than other political actors, more obviously infused, for instance, with anger. Thatcherite neo-liberalism was also launched on a tide of confrontation, often playing upon fear, as research on inflation, the Winter of Discontent and race has suggested Anna Marie Smith has argued that fear and animosity guided the right’s approach to sexuality and race, trained, in particular, on local government. We can see this fear and animosity expressed at the level of high and popular politics. Norman Tebbit railed against, for example, “sexual deviation” Thatcher spoke of “hard left education authorities and extremist teachers” telling children that they had an “inalienable right to be gay”, which, as it turns out, they do. In Haringey, groups campaigning against the local education authority played upon parental fear; one such pamphlet read, for example: “[m]y

name is Betty Sheridan. I live in Haringey I’m married with two children. And I’m scared. If you vote Labour, they’ll go on teaching my kids about GAYS & LESBIANS instead of giving them proper lessons”. The political centre and the old Left were not immune to such emotional discourse, as the 1983 Bermondsey by-election showed. This was not a politics of emotional restraint or management; it was, instead, an attempt to use emotion to, in the words of Pierre Bourdieu, “articulate the principles of vision and division” Adopting William Reddy’s analysis, this constituted an emotional regime based on a discourse, what he would call an emotive, laced with animus and fear. As the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act, Section 28, and the 1988 Education Act showed, these emotives and this emotional regime had sharp material consequences for everyday life The Left, in the form of the GLC, responded with its own emotives that posited a different emotional regime. Its ideological critique of monetarism was expressed in an emotional language of anger and outrage. In a paper of 1982 issued under Ken Livingstone’s name entitled ‘Monetarism in London’, for example, the Thatcher government was identified with what it called the “destruction of existing jobs” and the “scandal of unemployment”, which had resulted in a “roll call of the dead in the city”. Thatcher was compared to Pinochet, as someone deliberately promoting social war: “the financier against the industrialist, the employer against labour, and the rich against the poor”. The GLC’s alternative politics was similarly infused with language that played emotionally upon compassion and empathy. In the document on ‘The London Industrial Strategy’, for instance, the GLC insisted that “the principle of social responsibility for human beings beyond our immediate family and neighbours is a fundamental basis for a co-operative rather than competitive way of life”, which evoked an older tradition of ethical and utopian socialism, but also countered the new threat of neo-liberalism As I have said, this struggle between different emotions and different expressions of emotion had a spatial aspect. For the right, the struggle was about control over schools, housing and economic space like the Docklands. For the GLC, it was about establishing a landscape that reflected its political and emotional agenda. One GLC document, for example, mapped an imaginary city as a “network of women’s centres”. In a way, centres like these were what Reddy called emotional refuges, material and discursive spaces against neo-liberalism that promoted or indeed protected groups or people from a hostile emotional regime. And so, in this light, childcare centres, women’s centres, centres dedicated to ethnic minorities or gay and lesbian people were like the salons of eighteenth-century France of which Reddy speaks. They were not just figurative refuges, of course, thinking about centres for victims of sexual violence. Nor should we underplay material violence at this time; there were, for example, arson attacks on a women’s centre near King’s Cross and on the offices of the Ethnic Minorities Unit and, of course, ongoing homophobic and racist violence In the final section of this paper, I want to see how this larger affective ecology appeared in issues such as childcare and racial harassment The starting point for thinking about childcare is not actually the child, but the mother and the position of women. Redressing the inequality of women was perceived by the GLC as a priority, as with racism and homophobia Childcare was central to that aim The GLC’s description of gender disadvantage was rendered in emotional tones, coloured by outrage at or empathy for women’s situation, using language such as “women are poor”, “women are abused”, “women are isolated” Addressing this problem required policies such as employment equity, but it also required building a physically and socially different London. Funding women’s centres and childcare centres would provide material and emotional

refuges for women, where communities might be formed out of shared experiences and emotions, as this quote from the GLC’s ‘Programme of Action for women’ of 1983 shows: Women need somewhere in their own neighbourhood from which to run campaigns for more nursery places, better housing…Where women can drop in for support, courage, advice, contacts….Women need childcare and work….women are abused…they need somewhere sympathetic and close at hand to get help, advice, collective strength…Women are isolated…women’s centres can help draw women into the community…They can put women in like situations in touch with each other In this way, “emotions”, as Thomas C Buchanan has written recently, “were basic to claims for enhanced rights”, resonances of which we can see across the last two centuries If we move from the voice of the GLC to that of local groups seeking funding for childcare, we can see the same patterns of emotional expression In December 1982, for example, the Dalston Children’s Centre applied for a grant to expand its facilities. In its application, the Centre stated that it was committed to the “needs of children” but also “the needs of those who are responsible for childcare – mostly women”. A larger property could accommodate the emotional needs of women by setting aside “space where the women can meet, read, talk, share their experiences Most of our users need this space away from their children… they could spend an hour or so on their own.” Similarly, an Anglican-run childcare project in Penge and Anerley sought funds to expand a “meeting place for parents as well as play facilities for their children” This was particularly helpful in emotional as much as material terms: “this has encouraged parents to believe in their own ability and in their own worth, thereby strengthening their determination to make Penge and Anerley a better place to live in.” Thus, hope, empathy and, forgive me for using this word, but aspiration As one can sense from this quote, what was also happening through such discourse is the building of what Rosenwein would call an emotional community, constructed out of shared sentiments and emotional expression. An Outreach Project for women and children on Pepys Estate, Deptford, for instance, wanted to fund a variety of activities in a community flat, including a crèche and a single parent support group It was also hoped that this space would be helpful to teenage girls, “as they haven’t use of any physical spaces not overrun by boys.” This was placed in the context both of helping the “large number of women imprisoned on the estate during the day” and building a community: “we are trying to create a community spirit on the estate…to make the community more self-articulate and aware, to raise consciousness on the estate around issues like provision for under fives, problems of unemployed women, lack of community resources” Childcare was at the heart of everyday life for many women. It was, and is an everyday experience of great material and emotional ambiguity, as Denise Riley wrote in 1987, both “a pleasure” and “a bitterly exhausting fight”. It is also, echoing Ben Highmore, a moment of everyday life that can become quickly “dysfunctional”, not least in the context of social and economic deprivation, and it is in that moment that an everyday politics might appear. And this politics, in 1980s London, was accompanied by emotional expression and the formation of emotional communities, a focus upon physical space and building an alternative city, enabled by a combination of local agency and the state In short, childcare demonstrated an affective ecology. In 1979, Sheila Rowbotham caught this rich interaction around childcare, writing: “in demanding childcare, we are not only asking for a thing or for money, we are contesting for the use, control and distribution of social resources. This involves a concept of how we want to work, care for children and play and indeed love…In the present economic crisis, with the Tories on the offensive,

this is going to be a very desperate struggle” Some of the same themes can be seen if we consider racial harassment. In 1984, a number of investigations carried out by the Ethnic Minorities Committee and the Housing committee highlighted the problem of racial intimidation and violence on estates in East London, of which the Lincoln Estate was an example. So-called ‘reception committees’ on estates would intimidate prospective Asian tenants with “verbal abuse and threats”. In one case, on the Mountmorres Estate, “the Estate Officer and prospective Bangladeshi tenants were met by what cannot be termed as anything other than a ‘mob’ of women shouting abuse When the family were actually viewing the inside, these women chanted such things as ‘pigs’; ‘curry eaters’; and ‘black bastards’” . Bangladeshi families on other estates were regularly subjected to “unalloyed racial hatred” The victims of this racial harassment conveyed their experiences to various GLC bodies in emotional terms – with fear and despair: “the women were afraid to go to any public building…Racial harassment is placing these women in a position of extreme isolation…children cannot safely be allowed out to play…Parents described the agony of seeing their children attacked and abused and being unable to protect them” Such fear and despair formed communities On the one hand, it underscored the collectivity identity of the migrants, brought together by their emotional and material experiences This reached into ordinary life, if we think of the account of men shopping together in taxis in order to protect themselves. It also led to political agency, most clearly seen in the the formation of local organizations intended to promote and protect a wide range of ethnic groups in areas such as housing The GLC also played a role. Its response to the problem of racial harassment was to invest in networks of local centres for ethnic minorities and other initiatives designed to address racism and its effects, whether this included media projects, employment initiatives, Race and Housing Action Teams, or, on a city-wide scale, committing resources to anti-racist programmes. Thinking of Gavin Schaffer’s recent work on race and television, supporting the participation of ethnic minorities in the media was an important aim Another focus was the response of the police to acts of racial harassment. The Scarman report of 1981 had already pointed to deep problems in how the police approached “community relations”. The stories of harassment on East London estates illustrated this problem painfully. In general, the police dismissed incidents of racial harassment as “kid’s pranks”; in one case of a threatened bomb attack, a senior police officer “laughed the matter off”. Of course, this was the cause of deep frustration and humiliation for the victims of racial harassment. It meant that the only solution left to them was either to request transfer to another estate or pursue a private prosecution. Frustration with the police produced the Community Alliance for Police Accountability (CAPA) which examined the systemic racism and lack of accountability apparent in the London Met at this time In a period in which, as Stuart Hall, Anna Marie Smith and Michael Keith have suggested in different ways, Thatcherism constructed a political climate antagonistic to ethnic minorities – again, a hostile emotional regime – the GLC responded with an alternative politics based on conscious anti-racist and equal opportunity policies matched with an alternative emotional rhetoric. In a paper on ‘Race Relations in London’ from 1984, for example, the Ethnic Minorities Committee wrote of the “punishment” and “brutal policy” that Thatcherism had meted out to “black people” in an “unrelenting

way”, including the “savage insults” of the Conservatives’ acceptance of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Against this, the GLC not only wanted to salve the fears and frustrations of racial minorities and combat racism but clothe the prospect of a multiracial society in hope, not despair Of course, we also have to think of the perpetrators of racial harassment, whose actions were also coloured by emotion and concerned with space Those studying the history of emotions and the relationship between emotion and politics have noted the role of anger in politics, particularly in terms of how, as David Ost has suggested, this can produce “exclusive solidarities”. For the white community of the Lincoln estate, for example, the primary emotion was fear at the encroachment of what was perceived to be their space by racial others and anger at those racial others, shown in harassment and violence. Emotion was inevitably involved in the struggle over what Bourdieu called habitus, the “‘sense of one’s place’” and the “‘sense of the place of others’” Anger was also directed against the state, in the form of the GLC and housing authorities, for not respecting this difference; as one woman said to a housing officer: “why did the GLC put [the Bangladeshis] on this estate and not in Spitalfields…[where they had a mosque]”? The affective ecology around racial harassment was thus complex and powerful. Its emotional

purchase began with the breakdown of everyday experiences, such as dwelling, shopping and playing, and everyday spaces such as flats and streets. It involved the agency of both ordinary people and the state and led to particular kinds of politics and democratic participation In this paper, I’ve tried to think about the diverse patterns and values involved in the cultures of democracy in 1980s London and I’ve suggested that thinking about space, emotion and the everyday might deepen our understanding of this question I began the paper with two stories and I would like to end it with one photograph, of a mother and toddlers’ group in a community centre on the Isle of Dogs in 1986. The reason I want to conclude with this photograph is to think about how the portrait of everyday life it presents – mothers and children in a shared, communal space – might also be a portrait of an unspectacular, but complex and moving culture of democracy If unspectacular, the horizons of this politics or this culture of democracy were nonetheless profound in their emotional and material importance: to have a place and agency within a community; to have work and have children; to live free from violence or threat After all, what is so funny about peace, love and understanding?