Laura Portwood-Stacer, Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism
New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013, 208pp; ISBN: 978-1-441184-26-9.
Bookchin's best-known polemic may be nineteen years old, but 'lifestylist' endures as a slur in many anarchist circles. Laura Portwood-Stacer's Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism takes the concept to task, and through theoretical consideration, interview material and participant observation describes lifestyle's role in current US anarchist movements, unpicking various tensions along the way. Portwood-Stacer's postmodernist/feminist/queer perspective sets her at a remove from the debate, and allows her to critically analyse contemporary anarchist practices as an outsider. Despite an exclusive focus on the US, this book will speak to the experiences of anarchists across the world.
Portwood-Stacer's analysis relies on the concept of 'lifestyle activism'. This conflation of 'lifestyle' and 'activism' is problematic--even among Portwood-Stacer's interviewees 'almost none of them would refer to themselves as lifestylists or appreciate being perceived as such' (p 134). Expected 'lifestylist' themes such as subcultural affinity and consumption choices are included under this 'activist' rubric, but so too are the more classically anarchist themes of prefiguration, propaganda by the deed and direct action. Direct action isn't commonly reconciled with 'lifestylism', but Portwood-Stacer asserts that '[l]ifestyle practices can be understood as direct action because they attempt to materially change one's everyday experience without appealing to a central entity' (p 20). Material considerations such as this help to challenge the dichotomy between 'lifestylism' and 'workerism', and an attempt to balance mutual criticisms is a central thread. On the one hand those who cursorily dismiss lifestyle politics are admonished for failing to have '[a]n understanding that practices may fulfil different goals to different degrees' (p 49), but there is also a warning against the temptation to 'fetishise anti-consumption as a tactic, [and] not to conflate its satisfaction of personal fulfilment with its fulfilment of the promise of social change ...' (p 50).
As might be expected from a...