Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation illuminates the local grassroots collective action of women of color and the transformative effects their community organizing efforts have on community and family relationships. Prior research highlights the reciprocal relationship between identity formation and collective action (Moore 2008; Gravante and Poma 2016; Polletta 2001; Whittier 2013; White 1999). Analysts have studied how the intersecting identities of participants motivate and contour collective action (Crenshaw 1991; Law 2012; Moraga and Anzaldúa 1981, 2015) and how collective action processes influence participants’ gendered lives and biographies (McAdam 1999; Perry 2013; Warren, Mapp and Kuttner 2015). Less understood however, are how participation in local collective action shapes and is shaped by family relationships. The current study addresses this research gap by examining the intersection of grassroots community organizing and family life among primarily African American and Latina mothers and grandmothers who live in materially poor neighborhoods in Chicago. The study focuses on a “family-focused” model of community organizing led by women of color, whose intersecting gender, race, class, and immigrant identities are seldom supported by traditional, stereotypically masculine models of contestation that often ignore or devalue their family lives.

Findings are based on 15 months of participant observations of family-focused collective action and 47 in-depth interviews with “motherleaders” (Cossyleon 2018) from Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), a Chicago-based community organizing institution with a statewide reach. The central sociological finding is that collective action has the propensity to transform cross-community and family relationships among hyper marginalized women of color. These social transformations were achieved, in part, through COFI guided race-conscious nudges, meaningful organizing symbols, and the practice of what I call restorative kinship. Findings indicate how institutions can help to bridge racial and cultural differences, the importance of organizing symbols in shaping collective participant meanings and family lives, and how community organizing leaders used collective action techniques and experiences to transform intimate family relationships. Research, practice, and policy all need to uplift and take seriously the family lives and intersecting identities of participants of collective action. Scholarship must continue to explore how the collective action participation of marginalized groups produces intimate social effects that are often deemed separate from the organization and development of participants and their families.

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Creative Commons License
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