Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


John Krinsky

Committee Members

John Krinsky

Vince Boudreau

Rosalind Petchesky

Subject Categories

Political Science


social movements, same-sex marriage, LGBT, discourse, network analysis, framing


By comparing the struggles for marriage equality in Argentina and the United States, this research elucidates the ways discursive change happens around high-profile policy issues, as well as how that process shapes the playing field for future movements. This work builds on scholarship concerning the construction of target populations, arguing that in contests over meaning, the social construction of the central actors shapes both dynamics and outcomes. It uses content analysis and discourse analysis to compare the constructions of gays and lesbians and the state across cases and to trace their impact on the discursive opportunity structure. It also takes seriously the interactive nature of discourse, using network analytic methods to track how frames or constructions change through shifting discursive alliances.

Though marriage equality has become a global catchphrase with movements around the world, this research shows that movements in Argentina and the United States took different discursive paths to citizenship: In Argentina marriage equality discourse took what I call a path of expansion, bolstering the state’s responsibility for its citizens and expanding conceptions of human rights, whereas in the United States it took a path of assimilation, tying rights to feelings in a way that placed more of the burden of change on the excluded group seeking full citizenship.

But these shifts could not have happened if activists had not been able to get others to repeat their claims. Using network methods to trace the movement of claims among actors across time, I show how activists shifted discourse by forging "discursive alliances," groups of actors that align with each other in their claim-making. Where Argentine activists built a tight alliance with state actors, U.S. activists built weaker alliances, centered more in civil society. Just as the claims they make pave the way for future claims, the discursive alliances activists build shape their future possibilities.

This research offers a new way to understand and evaluate movement success, looking beyond policy victory to the ways movements reshape ideas of fundamental political concepts like citizenship and rights. It introduces a new way to define and measure discursive alliances, providing a method for tracking how frame change or discursive change happens. And it asks us to rethink the meaning of marriage equality as deeply context-dependent, able to feed neoliberal ideas of assimilation as well as post-neoliberal conceptions of a protective state.