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Soc Stud Sci. 2012 Oct;42(5):638-61.

Making appropriation 'stick': stabilizing politics in an 'inherently feminist' tool.

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Department of Sociology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-2539, USA.


This article examines how feminist politics are made to 'stick' to appropriated technologies in the context of a contemporary feminist women's health clinic in the US. Feminist clinics such as 'FemHealth', founded as part of 1970s women's health movements, put medical tools and knowledge into lay women's hands, making the appropriation of medical technologies a centerpiece of their political project. In the process, they rejected the authority of physicians and gave new politicized meanings to the tools they claimed as their own. As lay healthworkers at FemHealth continued the project of appropriation, they also continued to negotiate their dependence on physicians to perform tasks that required a medical license. Drawing on participant observation and interviews with healthworkers, I argue that struggles over the role and authority of physicians in this clinic play out through debates over two similar and competing tools used in the abortion procedure: the single-tooth tenaculum and the cervical stabilizer. Many healthworkers invested in the stabilizer as 'inherently feminist' in hopes that it would maintain its politics even when passed into physicians' hands. While appropriation depends on the ability of users to alter a technology's meanings, actors may feel invested in the new politics taken on by appropriated tools and work towards making those meanings persist, or 'stick'.

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