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Drawing New Symbolic Boundaries Over Old Social Boundaries: Forging Social Movement Unity in Congregation-Based Community Organizing

Heidi Swarts
Sociological Perspectives
Vol. 54, No. 3 (Fall 2011), pp. 453-477
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
DOI: 10.1525/sop.2011.54.3.453
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/sop.2011.54.3.453
Page Count: 26
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Drawing New Symbolic Boundaries Over Old Social Boundaries: Forging Social Movement Unity in Congregation-Based Community Organizing
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Abstract

This article examines symbolic boundary work in congregation-based community organizing (CBCO), likely the most economically, racially, and religiously diverse left-of-center American social movement. Major studies examine how symbolic boundaries reproduce such social boundaries as race, class, and gender. In contrast, this article examines the microprocesses by which CBCO draws new symbolic boundaries over existing social boundaries within their groups. The author claims that boundary work is not just a tool for creating a new collective identity. For groups (such as CBCOs) that have entirely different ideas, norms, and practices than the vast majority of participants are familiar with, it is essential to developing a new shared ideology. Second, although boundary work is essential to acculturating members, it may have contradictory effects. Oversimplified boundaries that forge the unity needed for immediate group goals may become rigid and undermine overarching goals.

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