University of Leicester
2015HolyoakREPhD.pdf (1.81 MB)

Young Women’s Gendered Subjectivity and Agency in Social Movement Activism

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posted on 2015-12-22, 16:14 authored by Rose Erin Holyoak
This thesis examines the experiences of young women participating in anarchist and environmental activism within the UK as a means of exploring the relationship between youth, gender, and political participation in a postfeminist, neoliberal context. Recent scholarship has identified young women as the ideal subjects of neoliberalism, where flexibility and reflexivity are prized and rewarded. Young women have been presented with new subject positions and forms of citizenship engagement but these are, for the most part, individualised and depoliticised. Concurrently theorists have warned of an impending crisis of democracy precipitated by youth political disengagement, while governments have condemned ‘incorrect’ or ‘disruptive’ forms of youth civic engagement. This thesis intervenes in these debates by exploring the significance of social movement participation for young women in contributing to their political agency and gendered subjectivity. The research utilised a qualitative feminist methodology, analysing data from 20 semi-structured interviews, three diaries completed by interview participants, and 200 hours of participant observation. The thesis finds little evidence that young activist women are individualised or disengaged. Instead, their participation in collective action and their identification as feminists contribute to my theorisation of them as ‘wilful women’, whose conscious, reflexive political engagement marks them apart from individualised neoliberal subjects. Through a relational, feminist political agency they are able to reframe femininity as active and compassionate rather than passive and compliant, and engage politically on this basis. The study also finds that the non-hierarchical organisational structures of activist organisations effectively contribute to the creation of anti-oppressive pedagogic strategies for confronting inequality within activist cultures. This thesis makes an original contribution by developing a set of theoretical concepts that enable an understanding of the means by which young activist women construct dissident, wilful gendered subjectivities that confront sexism and inequality both within their own activist communities and within society at large.



Pilcher, Jane; Taylor, Jacqueline Sanchez

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of Sociology

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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