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In a context of increasing globalization and neoliberal restructuring and with labor's power diminishing vis-à-vis employers, American workers have turned in recent years…
In a context of increasing globalization and neoliberal restructuring and with labor's power diminishing vis-à-vis employers, American workers have turned in recent years to community-based campaigns targeting local government. These mobilizations have received considerable attention from scholars who see this emerging community orientation as a significant strategic innovation. This study, alternatively, focuses on the subjective and ideological consequences of such mobilizations for those engaged in protest. In particular, it seeks to extend social movement theory regarding the transformative impact of collective action by asking: how do distinct forms of collective action bring about particular kinds of consciousness and identity among participants?
Scholars rooted in a variety of traditions – from theorists of “post-industrial” society and “new” social movements to state theorists and geographers – have suggested that identities fostered at the local level are characterized by a “defensive,” “introverted,” or “retrospective” quality. This study examines a local mobilization, the case of a living wage campaign in Chicago, which deviates from these expectations. Through an analysis of interviews with participants, I find that instead of spurring defensiveness the campaign engendered a citizenship identity that was both active and inclusive. In explaining why my findings diverge from existing theories of identity formation, my analysis highlights three conceptual deficiencies in the literature with respect to (1) the distinction between local versus transnational collective action, (2) the relationship between social movement goals/tactics and outcomes, and (3) the prioritization of “new” social movements over the labor movement. Examining the citizenship identities that developed during Chicago's living wage campaign is instructive, finally, for understanding the sources of counter-hegemonic subjectivity within a broader context of eroding citizenship rights and a dominant market fundamentalist ideology. More generally, this analysis paves the way for a more productive engagement among theories of social movements, citizenship, labor, and globalization.