Sacrifice or Solipsism: Paradoxes of Freedom in Two Anarchist Social Centres

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In this paper I analyse and problematise what I argue are the dominant modes of
liberated subject formation performed through divergent modes of organising within two anarchist social centres in Bristol, UK. Drawing on practical examples, I show how practices oriented to equality, like consensus decision-making and more formalised and codified modes of conduct, perform and presuppose a conception of freedom as coextensive with the attainment of rational subjectivity. In order to participate, to consent and to practice the self-limitation required to safeguard the freedom of others, sovereignty over the self is required - reason must outweigh desire. Yet as the activist subject defers pleasure for the sake of others, the practice of freedom comes to feel more like moral duty. Participation is at once the marker of freedom yet enacted out of an obligation that is as oppressive to anarchists as it is patronising to the mythical community we/they try to attract. Arising in opposition to the felt oppression of these practices, I identify a set of more spontaneous, joyful and less codified (anti-)organisational forms. Against the duty-bound activism of the rational activist, this counter-current embraces a conception of personal freedom as the liberation of desire. While this approach creatively counters the ‘martyrdom’ of the activist to the collective cause, it risks a moral solipsism that is equally unacceptable to anarchists. Whether possessed of own desire or rational will, freedom, in both sets of practices, is seen as coextensive with sovereignty over the self. Freedom and equality are thus diametrically opposed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnarchist Studies
Issue number1
Early online date25 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Anarchist Social Centres
  • liberation
  • ethnography
  • Governmentality
  • subjectivity
  • consensus


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