The shifting terrain of feminist theory and activism : university-based women's centres and third wave feminism
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This thesis, based on the results of an organizational ethnography of a university-based feminist organization in Southern Ontario (the Centre), traces how third wave feminism is being constituted in the goals, initiatives, mandate, organizational structure, and overall culture of university-based feminist organizations. I argue that, from its inception, the meanings and goals of the Centre have been contested through internal critique, reflection, and discussion inspired by significant shifts in feminist theory that challenge the fundamental principles of second wave feminism. I identify a major shift in the development and direction of the Centre that occurs in two distinct phases. The first phase of the shift occurs with the emergence of an antioppression framework, which broadens the Centre's mandate beyond gender and sexism to consider multiple axes of identity and oppression that affect women's lives. The second phase of this shift is characterized by a focus on (trans) inclusion and accessibility and has involved changing the Centre's name so that it is no longer identified as a women's centre in order to reflect more accurately its focus on mUltiple axes of identity and oppression. Along with identifying two phases of a major shift in the direction of the Centre, I trace two discourses about its development. The dominant discourse of the Centre's development is one of progress and evolution. The dominant discourse characterizes the Centre as a dynamic feminist organization that consistently strives to be more inclusive and diverse. The reverse discourse undermines the dominant discourse by emphasizing that, despite the Centre's official attempts to be inclusive and to build diversity, little has actually changed, leaving women of colour marginalized in the Centre's dominant culture of whiteness. This research reveals that, while many of their strategies have unintended (negative) consequences, members of the Centre are working to build an inclusive politics of resistance that avoids the mistakes of earlier feminist movements and organizations. These members, along with other activists, actively constitute third wave feminism in a process that is challenging, contradictory, and often painful. A critical analysis of this process and the strategies it involves provides an opportunity for activists to reflect on their experiences and develop new strategies in an effort to further struggles for social justice and equity.