From Infanticide to Activism:
Emotions and Identity in Self-Help Movements
Verta Taylor and Lisa Leitz
Over the past two decades support groups and networks mobilized around a shared bodily condition, psychological problem, or victimization experience have become pervasive in American society. Social movement scholars working in the political process and contentious politics traditions have tended to overlook health and selfhelp movements because their actions purportedly do not constitute a force for political and institutional change. A stream of recent research suggests, however, that self-help and consumer health movements, many of which originated in earlier protest campaigns such as the women’s, gay and lesbian, disability rights, AIDS, and mental health movements, have been significant forces for change not only in identity and public opinion, but in the healthcare industry and the legal sector (Taylor 1996; Klawiter 1999; Klawiter 2008; Allsop, Jones, and Baggott 2005; Brown and Zavestoski 2005; Crossley 2006; Archibald 2007; Epstein 2007a; Whittier forthcoming).
Although self-help movements share many of the attributes scholars associate with social movements (Katz 1993; Wuthnow 1994; Taylor 1996; Archibald 2007), the self-help repertoire represents a displacement of protest from the economic and political realms to other institutional arenas such as medicine, mental health, law, religion, and education. Social movement scholars continue to debate whether collective challenges that do not target the state can rightly be considered under the rubric of social movements (McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001). Over the past decade, however, a less state-centered conceptualization of social movements has emerged rooted in what Armstrong and Bernstein (2008) describe in a provocative article in Sociological Theory as a “multi-institutional politics” approach (Zald and Berger 1978; McCarthy and Wolfson 1996; Armstrong 2002;