Feminist Organizing and the Politics of Inclusion

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Abstract

This paper examines the attempts of one mainstream women's organization to organize and include women of color. Using the approach to social organization developed in the work of Dorothy Smith, I aim to make visible the complex of relations within which the work of this organization is embedded. In mapping the institutional relations structuring the activities in a local setting, the concern is to articulate how activities in the local setting are organized by and in relation to others. My analysis takes as its point of departure my work involvements with this organization over a period of two years. Beginning with my own activities and others‘within the setting, the analysis problematizes the concepts of "organizing women of color" and "inclusion/exclusion." What comes into view are the ways in which "organizing" and "inclusion" are ideological constructs brought into service to account for the practices in which various members of the organization were engaged. Their ideological character came to be unveiled in the "troubles" the organization encountered in its attempts to "organize" women of color. The inquiry shows that those troubles arose out of the organization's location at the juncture between private foundations, grassroots women, and the state. On the one hand, the activities of the organization are articulated to an understanding of what funders might be willing to support, and on the other hand the organization's activities have to be seen as serving women of color by both women of color and others. Displayed through the mapping of institutional relations is the deep mismatch between the institutional characterization of what it means to be "organized" and the actual activities women of color were engaged in. I argue that the activities and practices of the mainstream organization embedded in a complex of relations with funding agencies, public policy makers and so on actually produce the definition of women of color as "unorganized."

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