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Serving Sex Workers and Promoting Democratic Engagement: Rethinking Nonprofits' Role in American Civic and Political Life

  • Samantha Majic (a1)


In debates about promoting civic and political engagement in America, political scientists are often skeptical about the role of nonprofit organizations offering health and social services in the US because they are constrained by the tax code and grant agreements. However, I argue that by focusing on what I term social movement-borne nonprofits, we can see how these organizations may engage (marginalized) communities and participate in political activities. To illustrate, I consider the California Prostitutes Education Project (CAL-PEP) and the St. James Infirmary (SJI), two San Francisco Bay-area nonprofits created by prostitute-rights activists that offer HIV/AIDS and other health services to sex workers. Drawing on multi-method qualitative research on CAL-PEP and the SJI, I argue that social movement-borne nonprofits engage in political activities through a process of radical institutionalization, whereby they incorporate and advance activist goals within their organizational practices. I theorize the properties of radical institutionalization as “oppositional implementation,” “community engagement,” and “claims-making activities.” My hope is that scholars will test for and further define these properties in order to broaden understandings of nonprofits' evolving role in civic and political life, and in processes of social change.



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Serving Sex Workers and Promoting Democratic Engagement: Rethinking Nonprofits' Role in American Civic and Political Life

  • Samantha Majic (a1)


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