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Institutionalization Without Deradicalization: Political Culture and the Evolution of the Tea Party Movement

Yates, Elizabeth (2018) Institutionalization Without Deradicalization: Political Culture and the Evolution of the Tea Party Movement. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation explores the political culture of activists and sympathizers in the Tea Party network in Virginia, with particular attention to its impact on the movement’s organizing model and relationships to other political organizations and actors. I ask: How has the Tea Party become so integrated into the Republican Party, while maintaining organizational independence and radical ideology? What does this process tell us about conservative political culture and movement organizing in the Trump era?
Based on ethnographic fieldwork among Tea Party activists and sympathizers, I show that the relationship between the GOP and the Tea Party – at the grassroots level – is partially explained by the political culture dominant among Tea Party conservatives. Tea Party political culture emphasizes an individualist approach to politics, typically through institutional means. This view has two distinct results. First, by encouraging activists to engage in politics primarily as individual agents, the movement allows the majority of its members to become involved in established political institutions – such as the Republican Party – while maintaining allegiance to the Tea Party. Second, the individualist orientation of the movement creates a very diffuse and decentralized organizational structure that extends the movement’s reach broadly into the conservative community. At the same time, this open structure creates few barriers to the introduction and circulation of radical content, but without encouraging a narrow group identity that would isolate activists and alienate the movement. By maintaining this highly diffuse, independent movement structure, the Tea Party underwent partial institutionalization, while avoiding the process of deradicalization that frequently accompanies such a transition. The Tea Party movement is an example of regular people creating political space outside of partisan politics, but through institutional means. It is also an illustrative narrative of how the GOP became dominated by radical politics and actors.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Yates, Elizabetheay15@pitt.edueay15
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBlee,
Committee MemberStaggenborg,
Committee MemberMarkoff,
Committee MemberGoodkind,
Date: 28 June 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 27 March 2018
Approval Date: 28 June 2018
Submission Date: 6 April 2018
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 166
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Sociology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: social movements conservative movement political culture political polarization
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2018 19:45
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2023 05:15

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