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Cycles of Conflict, a Century of Continuity: How Place Shaped the Women’s Movement over One Hundred Years

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

The tension between social stability and social change is foundational to social science: society is constantly changing, yet institutions are slow to change. It is the intersection of these two dynamics that is ultimately responsible for macro social patterns, but measuring this intersection is difficult to do at scale. In this project, I use a combination of network analysis, computational text analysis, and qualitative analysis to measure stability and change within the women’s movement, specifically their claims-making strategies, over a one hundred year period, 1865 to 1975. During these years the United States experienced dramatic changes in politics and economics, and the women’s movement changed with changing social structures, shifting from a focus on political change to a focus on cultural and social change. I find, however, that within this changing society there was a stable core to the movement’s claims-making strategies, and this core reflected subtle distinctive features of place. I introduce the concept of persistent place-based political logics as a crucial meso-level structure shaping the claims-making strategies of social movements. Changes in national political and discursive structures, including the civil rights and New Left movements, introduced new ideas, concepts, and tactics into the claims-making activities of the women’s movement, and activists consciously and strategically reacted to their particular political moment. These strategic choices were filtered in and through these persistent place-based political logics, however, grounding the choices made by activists in a coherent, local, organizing strategy.

In addition to comparing the power of place in shaping the structure of the women’s movement, I further examine the structural and cultural reasons why, over the longue durée, some of the organizations and ideas within this movement succeeded (e.g., the formation of the juvenile court system and the idea that all children have the right to a childhood), and other ideas and organizations failed (e.g., women as a progressive voting bloc and the Equal Rights Amendment). I use the ideas that succeeded within this movement to discuss the enduring impact of the women’s movement on our every day lives in the contemporary era.

Principal Investigator
Laura Nelson, Faculty, Sociology and Anthropology

Publications and Conferences


Nelson, Laura K. 2017. “Computational Grounded Theory: A Methodological Framework.” Sociological Methods and Research. Replication Repository.

Nelson, Laura K. 2018. “‘Feminism Means More Than a Changed World…It Means the Creation of a New Consciousness in Women’: Feminism, Consciousness-Raising, and Continuity Between the Waves.” Pp. 175-197 in 100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women’s Political Activism, edited by Holly J. McCammon and Lee Ann Banasak. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Crossley, Alison Dahl and Laura K. Nelson. 2018. “Feminists Reshaping Gender.” Chapter in Springer Handbook of the Sociology of Gender, edited by Barbara Risman, Carissa Froyum, and William Scarborough. New York: Springer Press.



Keynote Speaker, NovelTM workshop. Banff, Alberta, October 17


“Ideational and Socio-Structural Isomorphism: The Role of Network Properties in Turning Collective Ideas into Collective Practice”

  • Workshop in Computational Social Science, University of Chicago, February 22
  • Workshop in History, Culture, and Society, Harvard University, February 16


“Computational Grounded Theory: A Tutorial,” Policy and Research Workshop: New Tools for Measuring Culture. American Sociological Association Annual Conference, August 14


“Measuring Collective Cognitive Structures via Collectively Produced Text,” Text as Data Speakers Series, Center for Data Science, New York University, March 10


“Enduring Feminist Fields: The Persistence of Structure and Culture in New York City and Chicago”

  • The Culture Workshop at the University of Notre Dame, November 6
  • Northwestern Department of Sociology Weekly Colloquia, October 22
  • Wednesdays@NICO, Northwestern University, October 14
  • Brown Bag Seminar Series, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, September 23

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