Living in Tension

Doctoral Dissertation


In this grounded ethnography, I examine the University of Notre Dame’s local gay and lesbian social movement field. My analysis of the GLBTQ-focused student organizations answers the question of how a GLBTQ social movement has not only emerged on a Catholic campus whose administration is generally resistant to the movement’s goals, but arguably thrived, spreading across three major GLBTQ-rights focused organizations. The first substantive chapter discusses the problems of emotional ambivalence among potential GLBTQ activists on the Notre Dame campus. Through a series of interaction rituals that begin at Freshman Orientation and continue throughout an undergraduate’s four years at Notre Dame, the institutional structure of Notre Dame elicits strong feelings of pride and solidarity among students, particularly within residence halls. Conversely, heterosexism, homophobia, and the prominence of the controversy between GLBTQ rights and Catholic teaching on the campus lead to interactions that elicit shame and isolation in GLBTQ students rather that pride. These conflicting emotions leave GLBTQ students vulnerable to heterosexism, but conflicted about speaking up against their dormmates. However, students with access to alternate sources of emotional energy are able to overcome this ambivalence and join the Notre Dame GLBTQ movement. The second substantive chapter examines what happens to GLBTQ-friendly students after they enter the activist scene at Notre Dame. Repeated failed attempts to mobilize through protest and other events drains non-heterosexual students of whatever emotional energy gains they would otherwise experience through mobilizing, leading to rapid burnout and temporary retreat from the movement; however, heterosexual students experience the failures less personally and are better able to sustain involvement with the organizations over time. Thus, straight allies become key to sustaining the organizations in the hostile institutional context of Notre Dame. The third substantive chapter examines the three major GLBTQ rights organizations on the Notre Dame campus as entities themselves. I discuss the ways in which the organizations confound traditional categorization schemes used by scholars of social movements and explain that the apparent paradoxes the organizations present are a function of sociological focus, not inherent qualities of the organizations.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04162008-174435

Author Carl Ashley Neblett
Advisor Erika Summers-Effler
Contributor Erika Summers-Effler, Committee Chair
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Sociology
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Defense Date
  • 2008-04-07

Submission Date 2008-04-16
  • United States of America

  • gay and lesbian

  • emotions

  • grounded theory

  • social movement

  • ethnography

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Access Rights Open Access
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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