Today we find ourselves living in a sociality at once strange and yet strangely familiar. It is still far from being an equal one, which means that a democratic deficit continues to bedevil the leisure opportunities of many. And yet there has been a shift from a structured and structuring society in which our identities were largely predetermined by our social class, gender, ethnicity, and the like, to an unstructured and de-structuring one in which the art of living dominates more than anything else, and where our selves always remain a work in progress. Social class, gender, and ethnicity may still exert some degree of influence on our leisure lives, but they certainly do not dictate them. There are many reasons why this is so, but it is still difficult to define this fundamental transformation briefly. But what this new mode of living involves, fundamentally, is the change, as Raymond Williams (1977) once observed, from unaware alignment to active commitment, or in other words, the moving of social relationships to human consciousness. ‘Unaware alignment’ refers to the kind of life you are born into and stuck with, while ‘active commitment’ refers to self-production and the kind of life we make for ourselves because we feel it our duty to do so. And this is because all of us – the privileged and the non-privileged, the haves and the have-nots – are existential agents who are very much aware of our social contingency. When the whole idea of contingency of the social arrangement comes over you, with the realization that the present is as it is but things could always be different, the world is inevitably going to look like a different place. Not only is immortality transferred from the domain of predestined fate to that of achievement (Bauman, in Bauman and Raud, 2015: 10) – which in principle is never fixed or conclusive – but the confidence to be the author of your own destiny begins to take charge. As has been well documented in sociology, in ‘solid modernity’ self-production was discovered and developed as the art of living by the middle classes,
awkwardly positioned as they were between the upper classes who needed to do nothing in order to maintain their position guaranteed to them by birth, and the lower classes who could do nothing to improve the positional constraints imposed on them by birth
(Bauman and Raud, 2015: 124)
but the research emanating from the study for my book Working-class Life in Northern England 1945-2010 (Blackshaw, 2013a) suggests that it was the onset of the ‘interregnum’ in the last few decades of the twentieth-century which in no uncertain terms precipitated the universalization of this shift from unaware alignment to active commitment. Interregnum is a concept that denotes conjunctural change signifying the period between the ending of one kind of society and the birth of another. Following Bauman (2010), the term is defined here as the time-gap that appeared in the last decades of the twentieth century when modernity entered a huge state of flux as the old, producer-based ‘solid modernity’ was dying and a new modernity was still (is still) a para-ontology. Bauman’s name for this indefinite period of interregnum is ‘liquid modernity’. In Working-Class Life in Northern England, I speculated that the interregnum was precipitated by the ‘arrivance’ of what Jacques Derrida calls a ‘pure event’ which was so profound that it disturbed the established order of things, eroding the assumptions and presuppositions that supported the status quo. This ‘pure event’ was a new thing, original, individual, arriving out of nowhere. It constituted a ‘rupture in the nature of being and seeming that [allowed], momentarily, the omnipresent, unchanging and therefore invisible truth to become evident’ (Kelly, 2012: 9). What happened was far more than an unveiling; something occurred in the last few decades of the twentieth century that defied rational explanation. When the ‘pure event’ took place something unprecedented happened. We no longer knew ‘how to identify, determine, recognize, or analyze but that should remain from here on in unforgettable: an ineffaceable event’ in what we had hitherto tacitly taken for granted as ‘the shared archive of a universal calendar’ (Derrida in Borradori, 2003). The idea of the ‘pure event’ provides us with a particularly potent analytical tool for making sense of the factors that lead to the onset of radical historical change. It suggests that although it is impossible to be precise about the why, the when, the where and the how the ‘pure event’ led to the twentieth-century interregnum: at what point did the established order of things – whose order of thought still bore the stamp of the nineteenth century – begin to lose its grip? Who knows? Still, I concluded that it would not be too far wrong to suggest that at some point in the last few decades of the twentieth century the cognitive frame that had hitherto kept burgeoning ‘solid modern’ social life on track was rendered useless, seemingly overnight. Before we go on to look at the consequences of this revolution in social life for understanding leisure, we need to first of all understand ‘wie es eigentlich gewesen’ (‘how it really was’), to quote the great nineteenth-century historian Leopold von Ranke, in ‘solid modernity’, before the interregnum, since this is useful in explaining how unaware alignment turned into active commitment. In what follows ‘how it really was’ is explained through Jacques Rancière’s partage du sensible (distribution of the sensible). This offers us a theoretical approach with which to explain the meaning and the organization of power (and
violence) in a society based on social class (and gender) divisions and how these intersected with the reproduction of social order and authority in ‘solid modernity’. What is most compelling about Rancière’s thesis is that it provides a convincing way to link bottom-up individual experience to broader questions about the ways in which societies are able resist processes of change even when modes of living and social categories inherited from the past no longer seem to fit the burgeoning social reality.