Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work


Mary K. L. DungyLoyola University Chicago AN INTERPRETIVE PHENOMENOLOGICAL STUDY OF WOMEN’S STRUGGLES, HOPES AND REASONS FOR PARTICIPATION IN PROFESSIONAL POWER-BASED COMMUNITY ORGANIZING IN CHICAGO Professional power-based community organizing is a practice of grassroots change in which paid organizers guide community members as they band together to make demands on elite groups to redistribute resources (Bobo et. al, 2001; Sites et al., 2007). Conflict-based tactics may be utilized to demand structural improvements from key stakeholders, usually towards progressive political ends that build towards a more just society (Bobo et. al 2001; Wilkinson & D’Angelo, 2019). Community organizing has some roots in social work, and the field of social work has often been admonished for not focusing enough on practices addressing social justice, such as community organizing (Krings et al., 2019; Reisch & Andrews, 2001). Unfortunately, power-based organizing (both labor and community-based) has at times been critiqued for being an unwelcoming space to women and other marginalized groups (Krings et al., 2019). The literature on labor and community organizing has long contained critiques of the gender dynamics present in professional power-based organizing (Craddock, 2019; Hyde, 1986; Kennelly, 2014; Rooks, 2003, Stall & Stoeker, 1998). This dissertation aims to examine what the experiences of contemporary women in professional power-based organizing are like revealing themes in three key areas: struggles faced, hopes held and reasons for organizing for these women. This study constitutes a deep dive into a small data set of ten individual women’s stories to take an in-depth interpretive look at their experience of professional power-based organizing as a woman. Also unique to this dissertation is its critical theoretical lens. This study uses feminist critical theory to evaluate whether these gender-based critiques continue to be salient, and if so, how and why these same old battles on gender continue to come up again and again. Two concepts from feminist critical theory, retraditionalization (coined by Lisa Adkins); and responsibilization (drawn mostly from Wendy Brown) are used to understand why gender subordination and gendered divisions of labor persist in our current milieu. Findings fell into three major sections based on the experiences of women in professional power-based organizing in Chicago: struggles faced, hopes held, and reasons for choosing to organize. The struggles faced by these organizers included the themes of sexism in the workplace; conflicts with the organizing model itself — including the insistence on one-right-way of organizing, the instrumentalization of relationships and workaholism; and struggling to balance paid work with “the second shift” of unpaid care work. Respondents’ hopes for the field of organizing read almost like an antidote to some of the struggles they faced and were based on their reflections about their organizing experience. Hopes held included building authentic relationships based on trust and connection; trauma informed organizing practices like creating healing spaces and allowing time for rest and reflection; and a place for caregivers and their dependents within power-based community organizing. The implications for practice here are that power-based community organizing continues to struggle with issues of inclusion, primarily based on structures of exclusion that come from outside the field, such as that of neoliberal capitalism which responsibilizes its subjects while simultaneously retraditionalizing gender relations which reaffirm women’s subordination.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Available for download on Wednesday, July 26, 2023

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