Rights in the Balance: Rights Consciousness, Rights Claiming and Work/Life Balance Policy in the United States

Dissertation Author: Sarah Cote Hampson

Year: 2014


This dissertation traces the process by which individual women come to form their consciousness of work/life balance law and policies that are available to them. Engaging primarily with Law and Society literature on legal consciousness formation, I employ a “process-based” approach, in order to conceptually disentangle the various threads that comprise the sources of legal consciousness formation. I analyze three dimensions that matter to the construction of legal consciousness: the institutional, the ideological, and the instrumental. In doing so, I seek to detect the connection between the individual and the social in the formation of legal consciousness. I use interpretive methods applied to the transcripts of interviews I conducted with 48 women in two different types of workplaces – academic institutions and various branches of the U.S. military.

This process-based approach reveals that legal consciousness around work/life balance policies is formed through formal and informal institutional structures, the communication of ideology (in particular the ideological construct of the ideal worker) and through individual agency. I find that the strongest influence on women’s rights consciousness and rights claiming is ideological, and that the pervasiveness of the ideal worker norm has had negative consequences on work/life balance policies as they currently exist. However, I argue that institutional structures, including self-directed “strategic consciousness networks” offer hope for better policy implementation and, ultimately, for social change.

Dissertation Copy Available in the POLS Director of Graduate Studies’ (DGS) office? Yes