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Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures: The Creation of Women’s Caucuses, Anna Mitchell Mahoney

Reviewed by Julia Marin Hellwege

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Caucuses are an understudied form of legislative organization, with most of the focus on parties and committees. Caucuses allow legislators to focus on commonalities, create a sense of belonging, bridge partisan divides, and set the agenda. This type of organizing can be particularly important for underrepresented groups because it can create legitimacy and social meaning. In Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures, Anna Mitchell Mahoney uses a feminist institutional frame and social movements theory to understand when women are successful in establishing formal caucuses. Her work fills an important space in multiple literatures, including legislative organization, state legislatures, and women’s legislative behavior.

Using an inductive approach, through primarily qualitative methodology with more than 100 interviews, descriptive analysis across U.S. states, and four rich case studies, Mahoney finds four types of women’s caucuses: social, policy, agenda setting, and ad hoc. This typology is useful because it informs contributing factors and suggests best practices. The social movement framework established by Doug McAdam, John D. McCarthy, and Mayer N. Zald in Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements is useful to group factors into parsimonious categories of political opportunities, resources, and frames.

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