Traversing the Personal and the Political: An Ethnographic Study of Progressive Women in North Carolina Politics

  • Skyler Hawkins

Student thesis: Phd


Much has been said about the major figures and issues of the 2016 national election cycle, and yet, the bulk of what affects Americans in their everyday lives is determined by legislation and concurrent activist efforts at the state and local levels. Within these localized political structures, there are elected officials and influential activists whose work and careers examine the very relationship between the personal and the political, and embody the complicated interplay between governance, representation and civic action. In exploring the ways in and points at which female elected officials are, at times, supported and promoted, while at others, constrained and erased, this thesis will argue that gender, race and class continue to play an active role in the presentation, production and passage of public policy. Based on fieldwork carried out during 2016 and early 2017 in Raleigh, North Carolina, among progressive female elected officials, activists and community groups, and non-profit organisations, this ethnographic project seeks to analyse how women work, interact and are understood in modern, American politics. Centring itself on the intersection of race and gender in the political lives, identities and experiences of women, the thesis explores the multi-faceted ways in which these women engage in political process. Citing extensive research conducting during the highly charged atmosphere of the 2016 election season, this thesis employs a range of ethnographic techniques, interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks, and draws upon visual research and presentation methods to ask these core questions: What are the ways in which women work, interact and are understood in a modern, political environment? And how is this work influenced by concepts, experiences and understandings of race and gender? In doing so, this ethnographic project provides a nuanced understanding of aspects of women’s political, social and economic power that acts as a shaping force in modern, American political life.
Date of Award31 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Wade (Supervisor) & Angela De Souza Torresan (Supervisor)


  • Visual Anthropology
  • Class, Poverty and Inequalities
  • Feminist Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Politics and Governance
  • Social Anthropology
  • The American South

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