Internal conversation/eternal emigration

Thames, Coromandel, New Zealand, March 2015

Knowing people is what we do to them when they are not there

Adam Philips, On Flirtation (1994), p. 82

The original tagline of this blog was ‘Inner migration/Eternal emigration’. Internal (or inner) migration is a (relatively disputed) term that has been variously attached to intelligentsia in Nazi Germany, Stalin-era Soviet Union, or other Eastern European countries of the Soviet bloc, in order to describe the withdrawal into the ‘inner self’, away from public life. It is considered a form of passive resistance provoked by the combination of inability to find expression in (largely oppressive and tightly politically controlled) public life and lack of opportunities to emigrate. Eternal emigration, on the other hand, is a somewhat self-coined term that invokes the well-worn trope of ‘travelling scholar’ (or Wandering Jew destined to walk the Earth forever), exile, etc., hopefully without romanticising this form of existence. This blog initially grew out of reflections on the interplay between the forces of inner migration and eternal emigration, or, to borrow from Elias, involvement and detachment, which has been a key motive in both my personal life and in my politics.

Internal conversation is a sociological term popularised by G.H. Mead and other pragmatists/symbolic interactionists such as Blumer, Peirce and Dewey, referring to the process of internal deliberation, evaluation or analysis that characterises people’s ‘inner monologue’, which, they argued, has an important bearing on how we conceptualise agency and social change (read: people are neither ‘class’ or ‘culture’ dopes nor completely ‘free’ agents, but actually have the capacity to deliberate on their course of action). ‘Internal conversation’ is the foundation of Archer’s theory of reflexivity, specifically developed to address the structure/agency ‘impasse’. Besides the fact that a blog can (by definition) be framed as internal conversation externalised, I am particularly interested in how reflexivity  is practised in public, including how arguments are made for the delineation of ‘lay’ and ‘sociological’ forms of reflexivity – in other words, what can social sciences tell us about everyday life that ‘ordinary’ people cannot?

Ultimately, these concerns come together in a reflection on the nature of knowledge (thought) and its relation to action. Taking, in part, the cue from Arendt’s Life of the Mind, the purpose of this blog is to engage in a form of public thinking about how what we know influences what we can do, as individuals and societies.