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Am Sociol Rev. 2011 Apr 1;76(2):179-206.

Cultural Anchors and the Organization of Differences: A Multi-method Analysis of LGBT Marches on Washington.

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1
University of British Columbia.

Abstract

Social scientists describe culture as either coherent or incoherent and political dissent as either unifying or divisive. This article moves beyond such dichotomies. Content, historical, and network analyses of public debates on how to organize four lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Washington marches provide evidence for an integrative position. Rather than just describe consistencies or contradictions, we contend that the key analytic challenge is to explain the organization of differences. We propose one way of doing this using the mechanism of a cultural anchor. Within and across marches, a small collection of ideas remains fixed in the national conversation, yet in a way that allows activists to address their internal diversity and respond to unfolding historical events. These results suggest that activists do not simply organize around their similarities but, through cultural anchors, they use their commonalities to build a thinly coherent foundation that can also support their differences. Situated at the nexus of culture, social movements, sexualities, and networks, this article demonstrates how the anchoring mechanism works in the context of LGBT political organizing.

KEYWORDS:

coherence; culture; networks; sexualities; social movements

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