The Global Anti-Street Harassment Movement
: Development, Motivations and Affordances

  • Karen A Desborough

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

My research examines the emergence, development and characteristic features of the global anti-street harassment movement. My primary interest is in exploring how both activists’ motivations and digital technologies function in the evolution of the movement. The global anti-street harassment movement is a loose global feminist network of groups, individuals and organisations engaged in various forms of activism, on the basis of the shared ideal of ending street harassment. The movement deploys a diverse range of tactics and methods, targeted at multiple audiences, to pursue its long term aim of eradicating street harassment and its more immediate goals of creating dialogue on the issue, making street harassment visible as a social problem and reshaping social attitudes and behaviours.

Drawing upon a conceptual framework located at the intersections of feminist theory and social movement theory, and informed epistemologically by feminist standpoint theory, I use a qualitative mixed methods approach combining semi-structured interviews and document analysis to examine the evolution and characteristic features of the movement. By identifying the movement’s defining characteristics – its structure, feminist ideological dimensions, goals and forms of activism – and illuminating the connections and commonalities between the diverse entities that make up the movement, I conceptualise and firmly establish the existence of the global anti-street harassment movement. In terms of the emergence and development of the movement, I argue that two interacting motivations: grievances, based on perceived gender injustice, and emotions, in particular, anger and empathy, are central contributory factors. At the same time, three technological affordances are relevant and necessary conditions: lowered participations costs for activists engaging in activism, the opportunity to create and maintain collective identities and the capacity to diffuse innovations across dispersed sites.

These findings are significant because of the absence of literature on this particular social movement – one that is resisting a pervasive gender oppression. Moreover, the research challenges prevailing assumptions held by dominant social movement frameworks that individual motivations have little explanatory power as regards movement emergence. I argue that motivation is a necessary factor for the evolution of the global anti-street harassment movement. In this regard, I draw on and extend previous feminist research which examines the relationship between feminist consciousness and women’s motivations to engage in feminist activism. I integrate the concepts of feminist consciousness and grievances to explicate the motivational dimensions of anti-street harassment activism. Furthermore, while feminist social movement research has highlighted anger and empathy as motivators for feminist activism, existing research does not theorise the emotion of empathy. My study provides a conceptual analysis of empathy as a motivator for anti-street harassment activism. Finally, I apply the concept of technological affordances in an innovative way to analyse how digital technologies function in the evolution of the movement. No previous social movement research has used an affordances perspective to analyse digitally-enabled diffusion of innovations. Correspondingly, mine is the first study to apply this particular set of technological affordances to the analysis of a social movement.
Date of Award26 Nov 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorEric Herring (Supervisor) & Jutta Weldes (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • global anti-street harassment movement
  • street harassment
  • feminism
  • emotion
  • grievances
  • affordances

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