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  • Writer's pictureAnthea Lawson

What is entangled activism?

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

Entangled activism is the art and challenge of changing the world while being part of it.

There’s a problem with the words ‘we’re changing the world’. The world is the object of that sentence, and we are the subject. The very way we talk about it places the problem away from us, the people who are trying to do something about it.

It’s those other people over there who are the problem.

I don’t think it’s always that simple.

We’re entangled activists:

  1. when we campaign for fossil fuels to stay in the ground to prevent climate change while also living a life that is still dependent on those fuels

  1. when we are trying to protect people from harmful exploitation while we continue to benefit from the political and economic systems that cause the harm

  1. when we are talking about justice human rights and yet are treating other people – colleagues, collaborators or opponents — horribly

  1. when we are burning out in exhaustion from trying to stop an endless-growth economy from burning out the planet we live on

  1. when we are shouting loudly to ‘save’ others from harm while, in doing so, placating our own unacknowledged emotional needs for recognition and security

  1. when we are getting a kick out of attacking and criticising the people on the ‘other side’ who we think have got it so wrong

  1. when we are unwittingly using the methods and forms of thinking that created the problems to try to fix them

  1. when our need to be so right and to sound so certain about the problem we’re talking about — and it does feel good to sound certain and right in such a confusing world — prevents us being honest about the complexity of our own position

I’d been an activist for a long time, working for campaigning groups to try to get laws changed to protect human rights and the natural world. Sometimes we succeeded, and sometimes we didn’t.

I’ve spent the last three years thinking and writing about the ‘inner life’ of activism. I find the words ‘entangled activism’, which I’ve chosen to use after many deep and inspiring conversations with activists, thinkers and psychologists, very helpful.

I’m interested in how our own needs and unconscious motivations shape the ways that we are heard when we speak out. And how the systems that we want to change have affected our thinking, acting and relating at the deepest levels.

I’ll regularly be blogging my thoughts, conversations, and insights from my ongoing investigations into entangled activism - the challenge of changing the world while being part of it.

I’ll post blogs here on my website, and on the website of Perspectiva, the research organisation I work with.

Who might want to think about entangled activism?

Anyone who calls themselves a campaigner or activist.

And anyone who is trying to make the world a better place but doesn’t use those words.

Anyone who is trying to change the world, and anyone who doesn’t think that’s possible.

Anyone who is worried about the state of the world but isn’t sure what to do.

Anyone who is interested in what goes on behind the scenes when campaigners are doing their thing.

And anyone who is repulsed and troubled by what campaigners are doing when they’re doing their thing.

Anyone who is interested in depth psychology and what motivates us.

And anyone who believes we should just get on with the job because we don’t have time to think about our unconscious motivations.

Campaigners who are burning out, and campaigners who haven’t got time to burn out.

Campaigners who fear that faced with the enormity of climate change, ecocide and injustice, they can never do enough.

People who are committed to ‘inner work’ or personal growth or spiritual development, and who sense its importance to the task of changing the world.

People who know something about inner growth and from that perspective can see a lot of problems with activism.

And people who think personal development and spiritual growth are a distraction from the urgent tasks that occupy us.

People who know in their bones how and why all of this matters, and that it matters in different ways depending on our different positions and experiences.

And people who are just starting to sense that this all matters and yet haven’t got the words for any of it.

As turbulence increases - in the biosphere, in politics, in our communities - and more people are drawn to activism, the time is ripe for this conversation about how we try to improve the world and what we are bringing to the task.

The Entangled Activist will be published by Perspectiva Press in June 2021.

What are your questions about entangled activism?

Use the comments below, or email me or find me on Twitter at @anthlawson1

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