Social movement theorists have often assumed a limited life cycle for social movements, due to the difficulty of sustaining non-institutional forms of collective action. Women's movement historians, on the other hand, tend to see movements of long duration, with periods of peak mobilisation interspersed with periods of less visible activity. Today, following Verta Taylor, the latter are most often referred to as 'abeyance'—a period when a movement is in a holding pattern but is not 'over'. This innovative project aims to provide data to test and build theories around social movement life cycles, shifting repertoires and sites of action, and the nature of institutional and cultural legacies.
One hypothesis is that feminist institutionalisation within, for example, government bureaucracy or women's services, has been a strand of social movement activity rather than an abeyance feature. A related hypothesis is that the existence of such machinery and services is threatened by the loss of visible protest events outside. It is also possible that social movement identities are increasingly being expressed or maintained through new spaces such as the internet. (See more on Understanding the Evolution of Social Movements)
The project has four main components:
- mapping the trajectory of the women's movement in Australia 1970–2005 in terms of events;
- mapping the institutional legacy of this wave of mobilisation;
- mapping the discursive legacy of the women's movement by examining online communities; and
- contributing to social movement theory by developing criteria whereby a movement may be said to be 'over' or, alternatively, in abeyance.