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Continuity and Change in the Contemporary Canadian Feminist Movement

  • Brenda O'Neill (a1)

This article examines how the changing environment faced by and context within the Canadian feminist movement is reflected in the beliefs and strategies of recruits to the movement at a given point in time. The framework for the investigation is Whittier's generational approach (1997) that posits that different political generations—defined as cohorts of recruits who join a social movement during distinctive periods of protest—introduce change to its collective identity given the formative experiences faced by each generation. Using an original large sample data set, I provide evidence that the changes experienced by the Canadian feminist movement from the 1980s onwards are reflected in noticeable shifts in the collective identity and activist strategies of subsequent waves of feminist recruits. The findings suggest that further research into cohort recruitment and replacement is essential for understanding the forces at play in shaping the contemporary Canadian feminist movement.


Cet article examine comment l’environnement changeant auquel fait face le mouvement féministe canadien et le contexte dans lequel il évolue se reflètent dans les convictions et les stratégies des recrues au sein du mouvement à un moment donné. Le cadre de l’analyse est l’approche générationnelle de Whittier (1997), selon laquelle des générations politiques différentes – définies comme cohortes de recrues qui rejoignent un mouvement social à des périodes de protestation différentes – introduisent un changement dans son identité collective au vu des expériences formatrices vécues par chaque génération. En utilisant un vaste échantillon de données initiales, je fournis la preuve que les changements qu’a connus le mouvement féministe canadien depuis les années 1980 se traduisent par des évolutions perceptibles de l’identité collective et les stratégies activistes de vagues subséquentes de recrues féministes. Les constatations suggèrent que de plus amples recherches sur le recrutement et le remplacement des cohortes sont nécessaires pour comprendre les forces en présence dans la formation du mouvement féministe canadien contemporain.

Corresponding author
Department of Political Science, 2500 University Drive NW, University of Calgary, Calgary AB, T2N 1N4, email:
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Hester Baer . 2016. “Redoing feminism: digital activism, body politics, and neoliberalism.” Feminist Media Studies 16 (1): 1734.

Janine Brodie . 2008. “We are all equal now: Contemporary gender politics in Canada.” Feminist Theory 9 (2): 145–64.

Lara Karaian . 2005. “Troubling the Definition of Pornography: Little Sisters, A New Defining Movement in Feminists’ Engagement with the Law?Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 17 (1): 117–33.

Wendy McKeen . 2004. Money in Their Own Name: The Feminist Voice in Poverty Debate in Canada, 1970–1995. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Jaclyn A. Nelson , Miriam Liss , Mindy J. Erchull , Molly M. Hurt , Laura R. Ramsey , Dixie L. Turner and Megan E. Haines . 2008. “Identity in Action: Predictors of Feminist Self-Identification and Collective Action.Sex Roles 58 (9–10): 721–28.

Kathleen Rodgers and Melanie Knight . 2011. “‘You just felt the collective wind being knocked out of us’: The deinstitutionalization of feminism and the survival of women's organizing in Canada.” Women's Studies International Forum 34: 570–81.

Deborah Stevenson , Christine Everingham and Penelope Robinson . 2011. “Choice and Life Chances: Feminism and the Politics of Generational Change.” Social Politics 18 (1): 125–45.

Verta Taylor and Nella Van Dyke . 2007. “‘Get up, Stand up’: Tactical Repertoires of Social Movements.” In The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, ed. David A. Snow , Sarah A. Soule and Hanspeter Kriesi . Maldon MA: Blackwell.

Nancy Whittier . 1997. “Political Generations, Micro-Cohorts, and the Transformation of Social Movements.” American Sociological Review 62 (5): 760–78.

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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-political-science-revue-canadienne-de-science-politique
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O'Neill supplementary material 1

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