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Response to Rafael de la Dehesa's review of Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP's Fight Against AIDS

  • Deborah B. Gould

It is a pleasure to respond to such a thoughtful and insightful review of Moving Politics. Let me begin with Rafael de la Dehesa's suggestion that I may have overstated my challenge to the political opportunity model of social movement emergence. In arguing for the importance of bringing emotion into our analyses, I state that the task is not to consider feelings in isolation but rather as they articulate with more frequently studied factors that shape activism and movements, including political opportunities. Because feelings always play out in contexts, attention to them necessitates attention to the larger contexts in and through which they emerge and operate. In my view, one of the crucial insights that scholars in the political opportunity tradition make is that the larger political environment is a critical factor in movement emergence; we disagree, I believe, in our understandings of how that external context matters. The model's emphasis on the necessity of opening political opportunities for movement emergence, conveyed in its proponents' programmatic statements and suggested by the model's very name, precludes instances when movements arise in the face of tightly constricting opportunities, as occurred in the case of the AIDS movement. Even if, as de la Dehesa suggests, we were to understand ACT UP's emergence as an example of an existing movement shifting to more confrontational tactics in the face of institutional intransigence, the political opportunity model still comes up short: when the AIDS movement emerged in the early 1980s, AIDS and lesbian and gay activists faced tightly constricted opportunities. In light of the model's limitations, and after sorting through mountains of empirical material that revealed a dramatic shift in the prevailing emotional habitus in lesbian and gay communities during the period of ACT UP's emergence, it seemed like a focus on emotion would help illuminate how the external political environment affects movement processes.

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Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
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