The forthcoming article “Discursive Exit” by Laura Montanaro is summarized by the author below. 

Discursive Exit

On January 21st, 2017, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, approximately 470,000 people, mostly women, marched on Washington, and between 3.6 and 4.6 million people participated in sister marches worldwide, on seven continents. The march was widely hailed for its multigenerational and multiracial character. We now know that American participants in the march were mostly white, suburban women (Fisher, Dow and Ray 2017, Putnam and Skocpol 2018), with many women of color reportedly choosing not to participate 

They chose not to participate, not because they support Trump’s election – Edison Research exit polls showed that among women who voted, 94% of Black women and 68% of Latino women voted for Clinton, while roughly 53% of white women voted for Trump (Malone 2016) – but to resist the claims of organizers and participants calling for unity and solidarity when women of color regularly show up to defend women’s rights and issues and yet do not receive reciprocal respect or attention.  

Black women, transgender women, and disabled women, among others, used what I call ‘discursive exit: they exited an unwelcome political claim – a claim to speak for and about women that emphasised unity and solidarity while insensitive to intersectional marginalisation – marking an important refusal to belong to or remain within a group as defined by the power-wielders. They also provided reasons and explanations and called for the organizers of and participants in the Women’s March to be accountable for the power they exercised in defining the terms of the group. 

Building on Hirschman’s classic Exit, Voice, Loyalty (EVL), ‘discursive exit’ captures a distinct idea: we must be able to target effective monopolies in the domain of supposedly competitive voluntary associations. In a democracy, these kinds of monopolies will occur episodically because of organisation, issue framing and focus, and momentum. For a time, The Women’s March had a strategic or episodic monopoly on speaking for others. It claimed to speak for all women and, because of its visibility, had an effective, if temporary, monopoly on this claim. Because the mechanism of responsiveness is joining/exiting the organisation, exit is an option. But this comes at the cost of not belonging to a high-impact movement when there are no immediate or as visible alternatives. And organisations that have an effective monopoly dampen the join/exit mode of responsiveness anywayWmight voice ‘from within’ but voluntary (movement) organisation is low on internal discourse, simply because the mechanism of responsiveness is joining/exiting the organisation, and leaves participants feeling morally complicit in an unwelcome exercise of power.  

Discursive exit nudges this kind of monopoly toward better and more responsive claim-making and representation than is available in the ‘join/exit’ model of responsiveness typical of voluntary organisations 

About the Author: Laura Montanaro is Lecturer, Department of Government, University of Essex, United Kingdom. Her research “Discursive Exit” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.