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Infighting at the Fringe: How Fields Shape Conflict and Organizational Outcomes in Social Movements

  • Author(s): Jacobs, Molly Sarah
  • Advisor(s): Emigh, Rebecca J
  • et al.

The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were the first gay and lesbian organizations in the United States, respectively. Both were founded in the wake of the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s, as hundreds of homosexuals were being purged form the State Department and concern was growing over changing gender roles perceived as deviant. The Mattachine Society was founded in 1950 when no similar organizations existed. As the group expanded, so did infighting, which led to its dissolution in 1953. The Daughters of Bilitis, in contrast, began in 1955. Over time, members drew from experiences in other groups and the organization survived until 1971. These two organizations were central to the development of the Homophile Movement, a precursor to Gay Liberation. As individuals sought to develop organizational identities, I argue they were simultaneously building coalitions to mobilize the burgeoning movement.

This dissertation uses these organizations and the emergence of the Homophile movement to address two questions. First, it asks how external contingencies—specifically other movements and fields—shape internal conflict and organizational outcomes. It argues that when fields provide organizations a limited repertoire from which to draw, infighting leads to organizational dissolution. In particular, this occurs when the organizations debate components of the organization that are not malleable and are linked to individual members’ ideologies. Alternatively, when a movement organization has multiple repertoires from which to draw, other fields can influence either adaptation or failure. When repertoires from proximate fields are compatible with those of the field in which the organization is embedded, infighting leads to adaptation. When repertoires from proximate fields conflict with those in the organization’s field, on the other hand, infighting encourages organizational dissolution.

The second question this dissertation is addresses is how does infighting encourage social movement emergence. In particular, as much of the work on movements argues that they emerge from existing networks or other movements, via spillover or spinoff, this project shows that infighting can lead to the diversification of organizations and thus creates a base of activists necessary for a movement to emerge.

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