Date of Award

8-13-2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Rosalind Chou

Second Advisor

Katie L. Acosta

Third Advisor

Wendy Simonds

Abstract

Sociologists characterize social movements as the collective struggle of marginalized and/or stigmatized parties to prevail against hegemonic social attitudes, behaviors, or denial of rights and/or misappropriation of resources. Whereas protests, demonstrations, picket lines, sit-ins, litigation and lobbying are many of the collective actions heavily researched by social movement scholars, my study draws attention to non-contentious resistance. Currently, in the United States an increasing number of black American women are wearing their hair free of chemical straighteners. Based on surveys and interviews I present the interactions and emergent norms that figure into their cognitive socialization and govern the collective behavior known as going natural.

In the interest of broadening what is known about collective action and collective consciousness, in this study I ask how black women and men make sense of the current natural hair movement. Relying upon in-depth interviews and survey data, I utilize an intersectionality framework synthesized with the theoretical frames of systemic gendered racism and cognitive sociology and the coding procedures of grounded theory methods to analyze the narratives of black women and men regarding the natural hair movement. Against a backdrop of beauty norms informed by the white racial frame, the worldview that centers whiteness as superior and non-whiteness as subordinate, black women and men deconstruct anti-blackness and acquire specialized knowledge and skills. Within the emerging research on alternative movements, and everyday resistance is the point of entry for my study on the popularity of black women’s natural hair as social movement. My study offers an ideal context to examine the changing exhibitions of racial solidarity and resistance among black Americans.

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