Politics and the problem of speaking for others in the work of Naomi Mitchison

  • Jacqueline Ryder

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

This thesis focuses on the political influences that shaped the life and writing of Naomi Mitchison (1897-“1999). Mitchison was a polymath who published extensively in a wide range of genres, and whose left-wing political interests informed many of her works. I explore the view that in her roles as author and social activist she aimed to represent 'the people who have not spoken yet' (Calder 1997: ix), and I interrogate the potential difficulties in representing those marginal voices.Examining texts from the 1910s through to the 1970s, this thesis traces Mitchison' political development to show how her socialist outlook emerged, shifted and directly responded to socio-historical contexts throughout the twentieth century. An evaluation of her extensive corpus, including fictional and non-fictional texts, archival material and unpublished letters, will be employed to show how she repeatedly campaigned, examined and documented the political and social issues of her time. Her role as an author not only enabled her to represent silenced groups, but also provided an opportunity to write through and explore her own, often contradictory, stance.Drawing upon theoretical frameworks, including Linda Alcoff's 'The Problem of Speaking for Others', I contend that throughout Mitchison's career she repeatedly seeks to 'know'™ and explain others, and justify her right to speak for them. Mitchison's endeavours were grounded in altruism, but she was consciously aware of her paradoxical position as a privileged upper-middle-class author and socialist champion, and her writing pivots around this contradictory struggle. In representing marginal groups, she aimed to give agency to those who had been silenced, but her works also served to validate her place as spokesperson for such groups.
Date of Award1 Jul 2010
LanguageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorEleanor Bell (Supervisor) & David Goldie (Supervisor)

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