Date of Degree

9-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor

David Brotherton

Committee Members

Hester Eisenstein

James Jasper

Subject Categories

Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence | Gender and Sexuality | Politics and Social Change | Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies | Sociology of Culture

Keywords

abuse, sexual assault, activism, social movements, sexism

Abstract

In radical left activist subcultures, ‘accountability processes’ are a form of DIY transformative justice dealing with abuse and sexual assault, focusing on the needs of the ‘survivor’ and transformation of the ‘perpetrator.’ Within activism identifying abuse is particularly difficult because it means acknowledging abuse by a person considered politically virtuous. The specifics of a process are situational and provisional. The overwhelming pattern is male identified people abusing female identified, gender non-binary, and transgender people. My research examines why activists are developing processes to address problems and whether or not they are successful.

Within the subculture, the topic is important enough to hold workshops and trainings, create curriculum, spend hours of time, form groups and end communities. But the significance is not reflected in academia. I interviewed 12 activists who participated as a survivor, abuser / perpetrator, facilitator / mediator, or general support. In addition, I collected supplementary information from 121 zines to analyze experiences around sexism, consent, men’s groups, and transformative justice.

The problems I found include activists' use of community-based strategies in a youth subculture, the complexity of creating flexible social institution alternatives, and the development of cultural norms consistent with prefigurative politics around gender equity, especially in inevitable sexual relationships between activists. And all of these issues converge in a subculture with an unstable and mobile population, whereby activists are continuously engaging with dominant institutions and cultural practices.

Activists’ argot includes reflexivity and privilege, but admitting fault and committing to change is not in our cultural repertoire. Dominant culture, as seen in the political sphere and the “#Me Too” movement, has proven individuals benefit from denial of fault. In ‘accountability processes,’ even if transformation occurs, it is rarely recognized. If activists’ aim is solidarity, activists can not condone injustice and the marginalized can not continue to be marginalized.

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