Congratulations to our 2015 Rose Olver Prize Winners Mary Byrne and Kyra Ellis-Moore!
Department of Political Science Honors Thesis
Counterpublics and Discursive Activism: The Political Function of Discourse in Contemporary Online Feminism
Abstract: Despite the prevalence and political impact of online feminist activism, it continues to be dismissed and misrecognized as nonpolitical. Theorizations of activism too often insist that activism directly address the state, take place through mass based citizen protests, or have easily recognizable goals. However, the urge to set a specific and accepted pathway for activism is a type of governmentality that predetermines political subjectivity in antidemocratic ways. Activism that does not meet a preconceived notion of acceptable political subjectivity is then cast as somehow outside of politics, thus perpetuating an antidemocratic and state determined political subjectivity. I develop a new paradigm for understanding activist change. I argue that online feminist activism should be understood through the theoretical framework of a counterpublic partaking in discursive activism. This framework decenters a focus on achieving political change only through legal and policy channels. Mainstream feminist activism attempting to counter violence against women only punishes offenses after they occur, thus failing to combat the roots of patriarchy and leaving a retributive justice framework intact. Online feminism represents a cultural and discursive form of activism that challenges norms rather than policy. Though the potentiality of this activism is threatened by antidemocratic norms in online communities and capitalist surveillance, the Internet offers new potentialities for activism that open up the possibility of a more democratic political subjecthood.
Department of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought Honors Thesis
Abortion and Affect: Inhabiting the Right to Choose
Abstract: My thesis explores the affective dimensions of abortion rights in the United States. Chapter 1 traces the evolution of rhetoric around abortion from the moment of criminalization in the mid-nineteenth century until the current day, and identifies many of the common themes that have continued and coalesced in medical and political language throughout that time. Anti-abortion discourse is characterized by a commingling of moral and medical language, and by constructions of motherhood that posit abortion as antithetical to the good mother, and therefore shameful. Chapter two sets up a phenomenological and theoretical framework for my analysis of abortion shame, and explores how this shame is deployed through language, imagery, political activism, and legal regulations themselves, particularly through the recent wave of “informed consent” procedures. Chapter three looks at the ways in which women negotiate their subjectivity around abortion and the stigma and shaming tactics that surround it, either through an assertion of narrative or an assertion of privacy. Observing how these negotiations of subjectivity often fail, reinscribing the very shame and stereotypical or sentimental dynamics they are trying to push back against, the chapter turns towards imaginative culture to look at how abortion might be conceptualized outside of these constitutive dynamics. Chapter four takes everything that this affective analysis of abortion rights has offered, and looks at what it illuminates about the “right to choose” framework. Taking seriously access-based critiques of the choice framing, I suggest that the affective violation of abortion rights via informed consent procedures necessitates a different analysis of choice. I argue that it demonstrates the need for an assertion of a robust reconceptualization of the right to choose that is based on an acknowledgment of women’s integrity as subjects, and their ability to inhabit a space of deliberation in which to make reproductive decisions. This analysis reflects how little gender norms for women have changed over the last 150 years in the context of abortion, a reality which stands in striking contrast to a contemporary moment in which norms around gender and family are shifting rapidly in the context of marriage equality. During a period when attacks on abortion and reproductive rights writ large are continuing to escalate, it suggests that an analysis of the harms of abortion restrictions must attend to the affective dimensions of these regulations. I argue that this analysis has broader applications to constitutional rights, and particularly to privacy rights, or those that adhere to the body, which are more susceptible to shaming strategies.