Politics and the Conduct of Life - a Weberian Perspective on Young Antiracist Activists in Germany

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 48 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Linus WESTHEUSER, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Germany has recently seen a marked rise of antiracist movements, movements aiming to overcome domination based on symbolic classifications of ‘race’. They are spearheaded by young activists both from racially dominated groups (refugees, migrants, Germans of color) and politically left white allies. These movements are noteworthy because they reflect a political renegotiation of the ethnocultural model of German nationhood (Brubaker) in the age of diversity.
Yet despite their timeliness and common goals these movements have often been marred by internal conflicts. I want to make sense of these conflicts from the side of the actors’ subjectivity using Max Weber’s concept of the conduct of life (Lebensführung). Subjectivity is here envisioned as the navigation of clashing value spheres and institutional orders. What are the conflicts young antiracist activists encounter when fashioning a political conduct of life?
Interviewing both activists of color and white allies with varying degrees of political involvement, I found that throughout the sample a solidaristic moral ethos strongly orients everyday life. Reshaping one’s subjectivity is seen as a key site of political struggle. Conflict arises along three axes: 1. While activists of color experience politicization as a recentering of subjectivity clashing with dominant norms, white activists encounter decentering contradictions between position and positionings. In both cases tensions are addressed with conflicting strategies of political absolutization/relativization: Absolutization risks leading to a hyperreflexive monitoring of conduct described as crippling and exhausting; relativization may make activists turn to competing spheres like religion and private self-care. 2. Activists struggle over the competing normative rationalizations of an ethically unconditional ‘politics of conviction’ and a more utilitarian ‘politics of responsibility’. 3. Conflicts arise over the rationalities of institutional configurations, especially the formal rationality introduced by professionalized activism. Seen through a Weberian lense, these conflicts become understandable as individual and collective challenges inherent to all politics.