Monday, March 7, 2011

Strange Bedfellows: Anti-Pornography Feminists and Conservatives

MONDAY March 7th   
The Berkeley Sociology Colloquium Series
Spring 2011 Presents:
Strange Bedfellows: Anti-Pornography Feminists, Conservatives, and Social Movement Coalitions
Department of Sociology
Smith College

The politics of sex and sexual violence are a site of interaction between unlikely allies, including feminists, conservative activists, and policy-makers.  In this paper, I focus primarily on one instance of these interactions: opposition to pornography.  Scholars of social movements puzzle over a putative coalition between anti-pornography feminists and conservatives, which appears to be an exception to the rule that coalitions require a basic level of ideological congruence.  I use this case to argue that we need to think about coalitions and their consequences both more broadly and more precisely.  I show how opposed groups with a shared similar goal interact with each other, distinguish between themselves and their opponent, influence each other, and disparately influence outcome depending on power, bureaucratic routines, and meaning-construction within the state.  I argue, first, that movement representatives engaged in interaction only within state contexts, where outcomes were the product of complex meaning-making processes in which the parties are unequal in power.  Second, the appearance of coalition with one’s enemies is politically risky and has substantial consequences for internal movement coalitions.  In this case, the conflicts between feminists over pornography shaped later activism against violence against women.  Finally, the case suggests a model of coalitions that distinguishes between rhetorical overlap and shared collective action, and between movements’ goals and the compromised outcomes they achieve. 

Nancy Whittier is Professor of Sociology at Smith College and a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.  She is the author of The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse: Emotion, Social Movements, and the State and Feminist Generations: The Persistence of the Radical Women’s Movement.  This paper is drawn from a larger project on activism against sexual violence in the U.S. since 1980, focusing on interactions between feminists and conservatives, the gender and racial politics of sex crime policy, and the construction of meaning by activists within state contexts.

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