PhD Graduate Kim de Laat and Professor Judith Taylor on Feminist Internships and Political Activism

January 23, 2019 by Kathy Tang

PhD Graduate Kim de Laat and Professor Judith Taylor published an article in Feminist Formations that examines the effect of the institutionalization of the women's movement on younger generation's perceptions of political activism. Through interviews conducted with university students who participated in "feminist internships", the authors find that "progressive social-movement organizations" can negatively affect students' perceptions of the viability of social change and activism.

Judith Taylor is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, jointly appointed to the Women and Gender Studies Institute. Her research interests include feminist activism, neighbourhood community organizing, and social change-making within public institutions. Kim de Laat obtained her PhD in Sociology from the University of Toronto in 2017 and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Gender + the Economy at the Rotman's School of Management at the University of Toronto. She studies the interplay between culture, work, and organizations.

We have posted the article citation and abstract below. The full article is available through the University of Toronto Library Portal here.

Taylor, Judith and Kim de Laat. 2013. "Feminist Internships and the Depression of Political Imagination: Implications for Women's Studies." Feminist Formations 25(1):84-110.

Scholars have paid ample attention to many of the effects of the institutionalization of the women's movement, but have not sufficiently attended to how such formalization has affected younger generations' perceptions of what it means to be politically active. The article uses interviews with an ethnically and racially diverse sample of Canadian university students who interned in feminist organizations to better understand their perceptions. The authors found the "feminist internship" to have predictable features that depress students' understanding of the kind of social change or challenges that are possible, and that train them to think of activism as another form of paid employment—a process the authors refer to as the routinization of political consciousness. Significantly, too, they found the likening of activism to work has also transformed social interactions among generations in the movement, replacing conflict and contestation about political goals and means with a script akin to employer/employee relations. Despite the trend towards formalization, students in the study most valued organizations in which staff members broke rules, attended to political ethics, eschewed hierarchy, strove for transparency, and openly debated ideas, signaling that de-professionalization may be a sound strategy for producing more movement adherents from emerging generations. Finally, the article reflects upon the role of women's studies units in brokering these relations between students and organizations, explicating how internships also lead students to revise their conceptions of women's studies curriculum as impractically critical and utopian.

Read the full article here.