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Title:Flawed consumers: understanding the impact of intersectional political consumerism during the Chicago Welfare Rights Era
Author(s):Brown, Nicole Marie
Director of Research:Jung, Moon-Kie
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Jung, Moon-Kie
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Mendenhall, Ruby; Lang, Clarence E.; McNair Barnett, Bernice
Department / Program:Sociology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Chicago Welfare Rights Organizations
Intersectional Political Consumerism
Zygmunt Bauman
Topic Modeling
Abstract:This study explores African American political consumerism during the Chicago Welfare Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Much of the research on consumption fails to adequately engage race. This dissertation incorporates not only an analysis of race, but the interplay between class and gender as well. This project explores how an extension of Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘flawed consumer’ theory to include race, class and gender can assist in providing a more nuanced understanding of the impact of political consumerist activities on the members of Chicago Welfare Rights Organizations. The use of intersectionality is most appropriate to engage questions around the impact of multiple social locations on Bauman’s ‘flawed consumer’ theory. The framework explores how this interaction between the ‘flawed consumer’ and race, class, gender intersectionality, a concept given to us by black feminist theory, create and affect the environment of political consumerism. Instead of being ‘flawed’ and lacking agency within an environment controlled by class divisions, intersectional analysis allows us to see how interconnected social locations work together, not only to construct oppressive barriers to consumerism, but also serve to politicize consumerist activities to impact a political outcome by utilizing these interconnected social locations. Incorporating black feminist theory to extend Bauman’s theory, this intersectional approach reveals a specific dimension of political consumerism which illuminates how power is shaped, enacted and resisted. Specifically, the study outlines the consumption theory I developed and termed intersectional political consumerism. The study discusses how intersectional political consumerism allows for a more complete understanding of how poor and working-poor African American women and men engaged and made meaning of consumer activism. Using a combination of archival research and computational analysis (i.e. topic modeling), the dissertation uses four case studies to expose the presence of intersectional political consumerism. The study investigates several Chicago Welfare Rights Organization (CWRO) affiliated groups, including a comparison of Jobs Or Income Now (JOIN) and The Woodlawn Organization (TWO), and discusses how these groups’ ideologies influenced the types of political consumerism they chose to employ in their efforts to win rights for poor people. The project identifies specific dimensions of political consumerism, community-centered and commercial-centered, which serve to explain the differences in strategies employed by these organizations. The dissertation also examines TWO’s ‘Square Deal Campaign’ and the specific political actors and realms of power involved in the campaign and consider how these actors and entities influenced how intersectional political consumerism was demonstrated within the context of urban renewal planning. Lastly, the project explores class aspirations expressed through political consumerism, specifically how consumerism constructs middle-class neoliberal identities and is used by the welfare apparatus to deconstruct the poor. The dissertation contends that a reconceptualization of consumer activism, through the incorporation of black feminist theory, will lead to a more robust interpretation of not only intersectional political consumerism during specific historical flashpoints but also a more nuanced understanding of current political consumerist strategies and how these actions might lead to systemic change within disenfranchised communities. Though the major focus of this research rests in its theoretical and empirical contributions, the project also has methodological implications that utilize ‘big data’ to change the landscape of sociological research, expanding sociologists’ understanding of the power of computational analysis as well as encouraging future researchers to engage large datasets using this technology.
Issue Date:2015-07-10
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Nicole Marie Brown
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-29
Date Deposited:August 201

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