Title

Organizing across the divide: Everyday life, feminist activism, and the election of women to public office

Date of Award

2001

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Social Sciences

Advisor(s)

Kristi Andersen

Keywords

Women politicians, Everyday life, Feminist, Activism, Election, Public office

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Women's Studies

Abstract

This study investigates the political efforts of feminist activists who organize to bring change to electoral politics. Through a focus on local non-party organizing, I suggest the importance of studying electoral politics in conjunction with social movement activity, an intersection neglected by researchers in both fields. The study also brings together two mostly distinct areas of feminist research, scholarship on women's community organizing and on women and politics, to explore the role feminist activists play in the election of women to public office. The intent of the study, therefore, is to more fully consider the ways that local activists might usefully mediate between electoral structures and community life and to investigate how such activists might enable the public to more effectively participate in the electoral process.

The study is based upon an extended period of participant observation and twenty-two open-ended unstructured interviews with members of a local chapter of the National Women's Political Caucus. Guided by the tenets of qualitative research and feminist methodology, I investigate how Caucus women experience politics throughout their lives and the means by which Caucus women jointly engage in political action.

Given Caucus women's accounts, I argue that these activists' lives take on important political meanings as they go about their everyday routines, organize both within and outside of formal organizations, and do campaign work centered around electoral goals. Through a consideration of such efforts, I challenge traditional definitions of political behavior and reveal a range of political activity relevant to electoral decision making. Such an approach makes visible the importance of Caucus women's work within their community and also refines our understanding of candidate-centered campaigning. Finally, Caucus activists are politically significant through their work of negotiating issues, creating new political spaces, and mediating the openness and/or exclusivity of electoral structures.

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