The potential for civility: Labour and love among British pacifists in the Second World War

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Abstract / Description of output

Is civility an end in itself, or simply a means to other ends? The relationship between means and ends marks theoretical debates about the meanings and implications of civility. This article addresses how these tensions played out in the context of the particular forms of civility promoted by pacifists in Second World War Britain. More specifically, it focuses on the experiences of those pacifists who set up community farms as a way to try and merge both means and ends through a form sociality marked by love, mutual labour and conscience. The paper makes two arguments. First, the attempt to merge means and ends meant that the compromises of the present could be hard to overcome. The distinctly pacifist civility of Second World War Britain therefore tended to reproduce particular middle class and masculine ways of being in the world. Second, it was the very tension between means and ends however that gave claims of pacifist civility fraught potency. For many British pacifists, pacifist forms of civility were an attempt to propose an alternative, not despite, but because of the space between their aspiration for cooperation and love, and the disappointments of experience. Pacifist civility was understood as a form of potential. But it is also important to note that potentiality is marked by two possibilities: the potential to do and the potential not to do. It is on this delicate balance between the inequities of the here and now and the aspired for future that pacifist civility stood
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-216
JournalAnthropological Theory
Issue number2-3
Early online date28 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • civility
  • pacifism
  • Second World War
  • Britain
  • violence
  • nonviolence
  • means-ends


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