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What the Hell was Ferguson: A People-Centered Approach to the Social Movement that Transformed St. Louis
Research Mentor and Department
Dr. Bret Gustafson
This paper outlines a people-centered approach to understanding the Ferguson movement. It explores the way protestors interpreted and produced meaning within the various spaces they entered. It uses an academic-activist approach and ethnographic methods including participant-observation, interview, and content analysis to paint a picture of this experience. In the first chapter, I argue that an intersectional grounding informed the way people operated within Ferguson. I examine the intersections of race, gender, class, and sexuality to highlight how people and the movement produced knowledge, transformed subjectivities, and developed praxis. In the second chapter, I argue that movement actors used a ‘generational divide’ discourse to understand abstract ideas about the movement and their agency within it. By discussing the different approaches of ‘older’ and ‘younger’ generations, people defined the movement, navigated political ideologies, shaped modes of operation, and categorized other participants. Finally, through a narrative about the group St. Louis Students in Solidarity, this thesis invites readers into a process of reflecting on power within the movement. By first telling the story and then offering analysis, it outlines the many ways protestors grappled with their position within larger systems and conceptualized their ability to affect those paradigms. This thesis argues these three meaning-making concepts together (intersectionality, generational divide, and power) to insert people into a broader movement narrative that wove together people’s identities, generational tensions, and means of effecting change. The result provides a fuller understanding of the meanings movement participants produced, and more broadly, provides a space of reflection for Ferguson participants.