Popular Feminism(s): Pasts, Presents and Futures

Issue Editors: Janet Conway and Nathalie Lebon
This thematic issue focuses on Latin American ‘popular feminism(s)’: pasts, presents and futures, in relation to: (1) the ‘popular’ politics of the broader (social and or political) left; (2) the politicization of ‘race’ and colonial difference within feminism and the broader left; and (3) the transnationalization of popular movements since the 1990s.

Popular feminism is a nebulous term. Born in Latin America in the 1980s, it was a way of naming gendered struggles for survival and against dictatorship by women of the ‘popular sectors’. Originally, many claimed motherhood as a basis of legitimation and many continue to valorize conventional gendered divisions of labour, heteronormativity, and the gender binary. But today, some also agitate for sexual and reproductive rights.

As such, in many contexts, popular feminism has overlapped substantively and analytically with the movimiento de mujeres, and shared its ambivalent positioning in relation to mainstream or ‘historical feminism.’ More precisely in some contexts, popular feminism designates feminist-identified women who articulated a class-based critique of sexism within the larger movimiento de mujeres, as in Brazil (Alvarez 2016). Women’s agency in rural and urban unions, political parties of the left, and ‘popular movements’ of all kinds have all been understood as forms of popular feminism. More recently, in considering how popular feminism may have transmogrified over time, the term has been associated with ‘class conscious’ feminism (Lebon2014) and so includes feminist NGOs with strong anchoring in poor and working class women’s organizations. Some scholars have begun to contemplate popular feminism in light of the transnationalization of feminism and popular movements since the 1990s (Conway 2017).

In contemporary usage, popular feminism is more often a generic descriptor to denote the presence of gender consciousness and activism, grounded in the ‘popular sectors’ and appearing in ‘popular movements’, where both its genealogies and its tensions in relation to the larger left are obscured. Nevertheless, in evoking notions of the ‘popular’ (popular sectors; popular movements; national popular), popular feminism is continually positioned as relevant to projects of the social Left.


Given the racialized character of the popular sectors in many contexts, popular feminisms are often demographically composed of racialized women. Popular feminist initiatives often overlap substantively with those of racialized and Indigenous women, and share with them an ambivalent relationship with ‘mainstream’ or ‘historical’ feminisms, insisting on a more expansive identity and agenda for ‘feminism’. Yet popular feminisms themselves often remain conceptually grounded in a race-blind, nationally-bounded, heteronormative and class-based notion of the ‘popular’ and which mobilize generic and majoritarian notions of ‘women.’


With the politicization of ‘race’ and colonial difference, and the ascendance of ‘new’ actors/discourses: Afrodescendant and Indigenous movements; LGBT and feminist critiques of nationalism; the decolonial turn, including its critique of gender; progressive evocations of the popular are being newly troubled.  Through a study of popular feminism, we propose to make these tensions explicit and to explore their analytic and political import for progressive politics of social movements which have relied extensively on the national-popular as their basis of mobilization.


We propose that historically- and theoretically-informed study of contemporary popular feminisms that advances clear contextualized conceptualizations of the term can illuminate both current tensions and dilemmas about gender justice in relation to left politics and about struggles for racial justice in relation to both feminism and the left.

This enquiry therefore invites new, renovated, deconstructive or problematizing theorizations of popular feminisms, grounded in changing material and discursive conditions, informed by anti-racisms and critical race theory, indigenisms, decolonial feminism, lgbt/queer theory, along with socialist, materialist, or gender-class feminism.

The special issue invites historically- and contextually-sensitive studies, comparative and or transnational in the region, which are politically attuned to dilemmas of progressive social transformation.

We invite papers, in English, Spanish and Portuguese, written in an accessible style, and speaking to a multi-disciplinary readership, which address but are not limited to the following:


  • What is the possible analytic and political salience of the category ‘popular feminism’ today in the context of the eruption of racialized/colonial difference, which is simultaneously destabilizing notions of the popular on which left projects in the region rely? How can such an enquiry illuminate ongoing tensions and possible articulations between the popular democratic projects of the left and the alternative political and life projects of Afro-descendent and Indigenous peoples, while paying attention to intersectional feminist questions?


  • How is ‘popular feminism’ being presently deployed in specific contexts, as an activist and or analytic term? In relation to which genealogies of feminism and left politics? What is its relation to the politicization of ‘race’ and or the decolonial, specifically its articulation to Afro-descendent and or Indigenous social movements, women’s activisms, or feminisms?


  • How have 1980s expressions of popular feminisms evolved in relation to the growing organization of black and indigenous women as these responded to the intersecting oppressions of racism, class, sexism, and or heterosexism — especially considering the overwhelming presence of racialized and Indigenous women among the popular sectors throughout the region? Have these relations between gender-class and racialized/decolonial feminisms been marked by connection and convergence or tension and alienation?


  • Has ‘popular feminism’ been displaced by, subsumed into Afro and Indigenous feminisms? With what effects? Does the term ‘popular feminism’ have any analytic specificity today on the feminist or social movement field?


  • What do claims to the popular do? Is it a political aspiration? A descriptor of class positioning or political content? Do claims to the popular whitewash? Obscure power relations in movements? Is popular feminism a racially unmarked, and therefore problematic category for intersectional feminist politics? For left politics?


  • How do Black and Indigenous feminisms negotiate relations with other ‘popular feminisms’? With the various mixed gender movements with which they effect alliances? With cross-movement mobilizations on the left? With what lessons and challenges for left politics and progressive social movements?


  • Is popular feminism apparent in transnational forms? In transnationalized feminist and or mixed gender movements, including of racialized subjects?




To avoid duplication of content, please contact the issue editors to let them know of your interest in submitting and your proposed topic. We encourage submission as soon as possible, preferably by Jan. 15, 2018, but this call will remain open as long as it is posted on the LAP web site.


Manuscripts should be no longer than 8,000 words of paginated, double-spaced 12 point text with 1 inch margins, including notes and references, using the LAP Style Guidelines available at  www.latinamericanperspectives.com under the “Submit” tab where the review process is also described.   Manuscripts should be consistent with the LAP Mission Statement available on the web site under the “About” tab.


Manucripts may be submitted in English, Spanish, or Portuguese. If you do not write in English with near native fluency, please submit in your first language.  LAP will translate manuscripts accepted in languages other than English. If you are not submitting in English, please indicate if you will have difficulty reading reviews and/or correspondence from the LAP office in English.


Please feel free to contact the issue editors with questions pertaining to the issue but

all manuscripts should be submitted directly to the LAP office, not to the issue editors. A manuscript is not considered submitted until it has been received by the LAP office.  You should receive acknowledgment of receipt of your manuscript within a few days.  If you do not receive an acknowledgment from LAP after one week, please send a follow-up inquiry to be sure your submission arrived.


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Subject Line: Author name – Manuscript for Popular feminisms issue


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Include: Abstract (100 words), 5 Keywords, and a separate cover page with short author affiliations (less than 130 words) and complete contact information (e-mail, postal address, telephone).


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Issue editor contact information:

Janet Conway, Brock University: jconway@brocku.ca

Nathalie Lebon, Gettyburg College: nlebon@gettysburg.edu