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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dancing the Carceral Creep: The Anti-Domestic Violence Movement and the Paradoxical Pursuit of Criminalization, 1973 - 1986


The criminalization of violence against women over the past forty years represents both social movement success and the paradoxical alignment of feminism with increasingly punitive carceral policies. This historical analysis of the shifting social movement field during its formative years from 1973 to 1986 refutes dominant social movement paradigms for understanding social movement cooptation and demobilization. The research interrogates the processes and mechanisms of contestation between social movement and the criminal justice system and, more broadly, relationships between civil society and the state. A closer focus at the historical construction of the anti-domestic violence social movement field during this period reveals the ways that the very dynamics of contestatory success generate the conditions for an expanding carceral state, eventually resulting in blurred boundaries between civil society and the state and the domination of the field by criminal justice institutions and carceral political logics. Through the analysis of semi-structured interviews of 57 social movement actors, governmental policymakers and criminal justice personnel and the extensive analysis of archival materials, this historical case study of California and Minnesota, early innovators of hallmark social movement strategies and institutions pursuing criminalization, contributes to feminist, criminological and social movement scholarship regarding the dynamics of social movement field development over time.

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