Accepted paper:

'Welcome to the FoE family': the constitution and maintenance of mutuality at a distance in a transnational community

Author:

Caroline Gatt (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

Arising from my research in the transnational milieu of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), this paper discusses a multi-faceted understanding of group identity and cohesion; One that explains the minutiae of mutuality as well as alterity in understanding social groups.

Paper long abstract:

Three key issues arise from my research in the transnational milieu of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI): 1) how mutuality is maintained at a distance; 2) how mutuality between FoEI activists is constituted; 3) how attention to the specific dynamics of mutuality is critical to understanding group cohesion. FoEI is a long-standing international federation of environmental non-governmental organisations. It is made up of activists who participate in FoEI from their respective homes all around the world and identify themselves as belonging to what they call the "FoE family". Mutuality at a distance is based on shared work and daily communication done by telephone and over the Internet. In practice these media 'fold' the geographical distance between the activists. However, an exploration of FoEI annual meetings shows that this mutuality largely depends on certain face-to-face practices carried out during these events. In fact, these annual meetings can be understood as rituals that establish new activists' initial sense of mutuality and reinforce existing relations. The practices of communion and communicative action within these rituals provide concrete insights into the constitution of mutuality. These findings challenge notions of identity as defined primarily through alterity. In particular, the activists' experiences of mutuality at a distance highlight processes where alterity is only one of the many aspects involved in the way their group coheres. Consequently, what is called for is a more multi-faceted understanding of group identity and cohesion; One that explains the minutiae of mutuality as well as alterity in understanding social groups.

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panel W072
Mutuality at a distance - transnational social space