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Stevenson Center, feminism, social capital, National Organization for Women, feminist methodology, articulation model, grounded theory


Through in-depth qualitative interviews with five current or former members of a midwestern National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter, this thesis explores four related research questions regarding: growth of feminist consciousness; how feminist ideology affects the evolution of social networks, and vice versa; the impact of intersecting social hierarchies; and feminism as a force for bonding and bridging social capital in the local community context. Analytical tools include feminist methodology, the articulation model, an understanding of intersecting social hierarchies, and grounded theory.

Participants each explained their gradual identification with feminism differently as a result of specific life experiences, although common elements, like religious upbringing and family dynamics, emerged. Growing feminist consciousness both supported creation of and caused breaks in social networks. Likewise, prior social networks had a mixed impact on development of feminist consciousness. All five women display strong social consciences, attend to community relationships, and value networks, both formal and informal. At the same time, each woman’s different social position regarding race, class, sexuality, and religion shaped her views about feminism and relationships.

These women do think of their social networks as social capital. In fact, these interviews highlight the potentially recursive relationship between feminist consciousness and social capital. At the same time, they reveal the limitations implicit in the economic model of social capital.

As perhaps the only qualitative, individual-level examination of social capital in women-dominated activities, this study enriches our theoretical understanding of the concept while elucidating the community contributions of feminists in a mid-sized midwestern city.

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