Formations Of Self And Society 1943-73: A Conversation With Cynthia Cockburn

2008  was forty years after  the student uprisings which  caused a storm in the teacups of the political establishment across the world. The anniversary was an occasion for  that generation, my generation, to take stock, to look back at the conjuncture  and consider how it had shaped  our politics  and subsequent lives.  As someone who  had been a student in the early sixties but had dropped out and become part of what became known as the ‘underground’ counter culture in London, I felt somewhat ambivalent about this spate of ‘memory work’,  most of it produced by ex student activists who had gone on to become established academics. Perhaps understandably their accounts  ignored anything that was not happening in  the universities. One of the motivations in writing my memoir, Reading Room Only   was to  correct this bias, and insist that there was other stuff going on, including the squatting movement in which I was involved, that should be included in the public record.  

A friend and colleague of mine, Nora Rathzel, with  whom I had collaborate on a joint research project into young people’s narratives of place in  Hamburg and East London ( Finding the way home)   and who had been very active in left wing politics and the women’s movement in West Germany  during the 60’s and 70’s  set up a  reminiscence group  to bring together a range of people who, in different ways, had become radicalised in and by the 60’s,  to explore  areas of commonality as well as difference. One member of the group was Cynthia Cockburn, who is a leading feminist, pacifist and gay activist, as well as being a freelance researcher and writer. I first met her when she did a book about Youth Training for a series  I edited for Palgrave in the 1980’s  (Youth Questions).

Nora  invited me to join the 68 reminiscence group and suggested that Cynthia interviewed me. The interview took place in Cynthia’s house, over two sessions  in the Spring of 2006. An edited version  of the first session  is reproduced here.

Here is the programme:  Formations Of Self And Society