Cynthia Cockburn

‘Transversal politics answers to a need to conceptualise a democratic practice of a particular kind, a process that can on the one hand look for commonalities without being arrogantly universalist, and on the other affirm difference without being transfixed by it. Transversal politics is the practice of creatively crossing (and re-drawing) the borders that mark significant politicised differences. It means empathy without sameness, shifting without tearing up your roots.’

Cynthia Cockburn and Lynette Hunter, Soundings, issue 12, 1999

Cynthia Cockburn, who died in September, was a regular contributor to Soundings from the time when it was founded in 1995 until her last article in 2013. Perhaps her most important contribution to the journal has been her work on transversal politics, an idea which is even more necessary today than it was when it was first explored.

To celebrate Cynthia’s lifetime of writing and campaigning, and to remind people of her outstanding contribution, we have made freely available a selection from the articles she wrote for us.

Cynthia’s critical work was always strongly related to her work as an activist, and drew its strength from the connections she made between theory and practice. Many of the articles she contributed to Soundings were based around her photography of projects in which she was involved. Her most extensive work in the journal was based on the work she carried out on three women’s projects, in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Israel, to which reflection on gender and cross-communal relations was central (the Women Building Bridges project). Beginning in the second issue of Soundings, in 1996, she wrote a series of photo-narratives based on the project. (The second and third instalments appeared in issues 3 and 5, and in her 2013 article she revisited the projects to see how they had fared in the intervening years.)

In issue 12, which Cynthia guest-edited alongside Lynette Hunter, the main theme was the idea of transversal politics, which, as they commented, seemed as if it had ‘fallen, clunk, upon a meaning that had been waiting for a signifier’. The idea of transversal politics offered new ways of thinking about the implications of the Building Bridges project, of connecting the work of the project with that of other women’s organisations, and of thinking about difference. A greater familiarity with this body of work would be of great assistance in many of today’s debates.

In all of this work Cynthia did much more than write about transversal politics – she was an active agent in bringing its ideas into practice. We have focused particularly on this work here, but we also recognise the amazing work she did elsewhere, especially for the peace and women’s movements.

In 2002 Lawrence & Wishart also published a collection of essays co-edited by Cynthia with Dubravka Zarkov, which drew on some of this earlier work, as well her ideas on militarisation and gender, to discuss the dangers inherent in ignoring issues of power and gender when trying navigating a pathway through the postwar moment.

We will continue to think with the insights she has left for us.

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