In this episode of High Theory, Katherine Turk tells us about Sisterhood, a familial metaphor used to evoke gendered solidarity in women’s movement of the mid-sixties and seventies, and a utopian ideal of equality within the human family. It’s a universalizing but aspirational concept that helped feminists build a political coalition. 

Our conversation is based upon Katherine’s new book about the National Organization of Women: The Women of NOW: How Feminists Built an Organization That Transformed America (MacMillan, 2023). This mainstream feminist organization is often neglected in histories of the period, dismissed as a liberal organization dedicated to incremental change. But NOW was an expansive organization that changed over time, shifted the conversation and legal structures in the US, and left an important historical record that we can learn from in social justice work today. 

Katherine Turk is an associate professor of History and an adjunct associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. Her research and teaching focus on women, sex, gender, law, labor, and modern social movements. Her first book Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace (Politics and Culture in Modern America Series, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) studies the history of Title VII of the 1964 US Civil Rights Act, which outlawed workplace discrimination on the basis of such personal attributes as sex, race, and religion. 

The image for this week was made by Saronik Bosu. It shows Aileen Hernandez, Mary Jean Collins, and Patricia Hill Burnett, leaders of NOW who are the primary subjects of Katherine’s book.

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Civil Disobedience

Eraldo Souza dos Santos talks about the invention of civil disobedience as a form of political action around the world, and the need for its redefinition to describe activism present and future. In the episode, he references John Rawls’s classic definition from A Theory of Justice (Harvard UP, 1971) and Erin Pineda’s new book, Seeing Like an Activist: Civil Disobedience and the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford UP, 2021).

Eraldo Souza dos Santos is a philosopher and historian of political thought whose research explores how political concepts have come to shape political discourse and political practice, and how political actors have come to contest the meaning of these concepts in turn. In his current project, he traces the global history of the idea of civil disobedience. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy at Panthéon-Sorbonne University. He has been the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Académie française, the Maison française d’Oxford, the Leuven Institute for Advanced Studies, the Munich Centre for Global History, the Friedrich Nietzsche College of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar, the French-Dutch Network for Higher Education and Research, and the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel, among others.

Image: Bas-Relief of the Salt March led by M.K. Gandhi in March-April 1930, photograph by Nevil Zaveri, available here under Creative Commons.

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