Generating Solidarity: The Playful Politics of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Melissa C. Gouge

Advisor: John G. Dale, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Lester Kurtz, Joan Bristol, David Kyle

Commerce Building II, #3006
April 13, 2018, 04:00 PM to 06:00 PM


Since the 1990’s, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a group of tomato farmworkers in southwest Florida, embedded in a transnational network of committed allies, have taken on the fight against some of the largest producers and buyers of produce in the country. Their Fair Food Program has established new and enforceable labor standards (in the absence of effective state intervention) that recognize farmworkers’ basic human rights to fair wages and dignity in the workplace. This dissertation provides a detailed ethnographic account of activist participation in a widely recognized and successful social movement organization. It examines the CIW as a case study of how a social movement organization generates political solidarity.  Based on seven years of participant observation and over 20 interviews and focus groups with CIW members and allies, this dissertation finds evidence suggesting that this organization has internally generated durable, democratic political solidarity, in its pursuit of social change. This dissertation explores the sources of this political solidarity and argues that it derives from the interaction effects of particular, shared emotions (both positive and negative, including joy and love, as well as righteous indignation), and a culture of playfulness (often featuring son jarocho folk music, mística popular education theater, and protest art making). Drawing on Jasper’s (2011) original concept of  a “moral battery,” which posits a general and necessary relationship between positive and negative emotions that significantly energize social movements, this dissertation provides new evidence to further develop the concept, and elaborates a model of how emotions and culture interact to generate democratic political solidarity.