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Feminist Generations: The Persistence of the…

Feminist Generations: The Persistence of the Radical Women's Movement

by Nancy Whittier

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Whittier tracks, in some detail, the development of the radical women's movement in Columbus, Ohio, centered at Ohio State University, from its beginnings in the late 1960's, all the way through the '90s. She seeks to explore how and why the feminist movement changed so radically in both ideology and culture over the years.

Her central conclusion is novel and well supported by her evidence. She argues that the women's movement changed, not because the women grew up and abandoned their radicalism, or because feminism had won all its battles, but because each new group of women that entered the movement found a new political environment and therefore developed an new feminist worldview.

Whittier shows how this process actually occurred every few years, with each new group (she refers to them as micro-cohorts) developing a slightly different feminist perspective, while the older activists retained their original views.

On this narrow level her thesis succeeds beautifully. However, her concept of movement generations is presented as having more general worth as a sociological theory of social movements. Here she only half succeeds. Her insight that movements alter their own social contexts, and therefore new recruits develop new perspectives should be generalizable. However, the other half of the coin, that activists retain their original worldviews even through changing circumstances, is tainted by the location of her study. College campuses have a naturally high turnover rate and she argues that internal movement dynamics increased this turnover. Separation from the movement is a simpler explanation for static ideologies.

Overall, a solid work in social movement sociology. ( )
  eromsted | Aug 31, 2006 |
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