The Politics of Text: How Textual Norms Shape Substantive Agendas in US Constitutional Amendment Advocacy, 1900-2010


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




What happens to its political agenda when a popular movement develops normative views of text itself? This dissertation analyzes patterns in US constitutional amendment activism to understand why beliefs about words come to collide with visions for sociopolitical change. It examines specific combinations of “textual norms” and substantive goals in each of four historical periods, showing how they emerge and their consequences going forward. It concludes that movements favoring “technical” text cannot sustain advocacy for collective social reform, while those favoring “literal” text can effectively promote personal liberties, and “ambiguous” text is politically problematic. By showing that institutions create these textual norms, it reconciles cultural theory and institutionalism.