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Backlash and Co-optation: Feminism, Anti-Racism and Human Rights Politics - POL00100M

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  • Department: Politics
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alasia Nuti
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

This module addresses the interaction between social movements, states, and the private sector, analysing how radical politics is often met by backlash or neutralised through co-optation. Over the last decades, radical or ‘progressive’ discourses, actors, and programmes have made inroads into ‘mainstream’ state policies, commercial advertising, and political rhetoric. In some cases, this has been followed by push-back or backlash and erosion of rights. In other cases, activists have wondered if their perceived success is in fact a failure as their ideas are emptied of their original radical intent.

The module explores highly relevant contemporary political developments as well as providing students with in-depth knowledge of radical politics in areas such as gender, human rights, anti-imperialism and climate politics. Key cases covered in the module will be: the backlash against gender and LGBTQ+ equality, climate justice, human rights, and the cooption of feminist struggles over sexual violence to justify borders, the politics of greenwashing and the rise of homonationalism.

Professional requirements

N/A

Related modules

N/A

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

This module explores the contemporary politics of co-optation and backlash of and against social movements. Ferree and Hess (2000: 141) understand co-optation as “being absorbed into the policy structures that one has been fighting against”. In the context of rising right wing populism, neoliberalism and the questioning of hard-won gains by sexual, racialised minority communities and groups and social movements in the areas of climate justice, democracy and anti-capitalism, social movements face a moment of historical crisis. Different social actors - including right wing parties, states, corporations - seek to depoliticise radical claims for human rights, social justice and emancipation (co-optation) and at the same time movements face mounting forms of often violent confrontation (backlash). This includes for example, greenwashing, the commodification of gay activism, gender mainstreaming, the pacification of black power and black feminism, the rise of Men’s rights campaigns and ‘#All Lives Matter’.

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

At the end of the module students should be able to:

  • have a deep and systematic understanding of the political phenomena of backlash and co-optation and of their relation to the broader field of politics, human rights and social movement studies

  • demonstrate a detailed understanding of current theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of backlash and co-optation and creatively apply them to different cases and contexts in contemporary politics

Academic and graduate skills

  • Develop their ability to evaluate a range of literatures and sources covered in the module to formulate academically-informed views on a range of cases of backlash and co-optation

  • Use ideas at a high level of abstraction. Develop critical responses to existing theoretical discourses, methodologies or practices and suggest new concepts or approaches.

  • Flexibly and creatively apply the deep knowledge acquired in the module to unfamiliar contexts, synthesise ideas in innovative ways, and generate original solutions.

  • Use personal reflection to analyse one’s own possible complicity with the phenomena of backlash and co-optation.

  • Develop their capability to support effective communication and respond to challenges in seminar classes.

Module content

Students taking the module will be introduced to the central issues surrounding the politics of both backlash and co-optation in contemporary social movements, and in doing so explore what this tells us about wider politics of social movements, civil society and the state, hegemony and the ubiquity of liberal power, as well as debates on depoliticisation/politicisation. The module will offer a firm conceptual grounding in co-optation and backlash by both scholars and activists and subsequently explore a different case each week which speaks to the evolving politics of backlash/co-option.

Content by teaching week

1 Introduction to the concepts

2 Gender and the far-right

3 Racial equality and the far-right

4 Anti-imperialism, human rights and neoliberalism

5 Fossil fascism

6 Greenwashing and fairtrade

7 Handmaidens of capitalism

8 Femonationalism

9 Homonationalism

10 Conclusion and critique

Assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
Essay/ Coursework
N/A 100

Special assessment rules

None

Additional assessment information

N/A

Reassessment

None

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their formative assessment. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

  • Della Porta, Donatella. "Conceptualising backlash movements: A (patch-worked) perspective from social movement studies." The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 22, no. 4 (2020): 585-597.
  • Williams, Joe. "Greenwashing: Appearance, illusion and the future of ‘green’ capitalism." Geography Compass 18, no. 1 (2024): e12736.
  • Paternotte, D., & Kuhar, R. (2018). Disentangling and locating the “global right”: Anti-gender campaigns in Europe. Politics and Governance, 6(3), 6-19.
  • Symposium on Backlash Politics in Comparison (2020) in: The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 22(4)
  • Farris, S. R. (2017). In the name of women’s rights: The rise of femonationalism. Duke University Press.
  • Coy, P. G. (2013) ‘Co-optation’ in: The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements, D. Snow, et. al, (eds.), Hoboken, NJ John Wiley & Sons, pp. 280-281.
  • Mansbridge, Jane, and Shauna L. Shames. "Toward a theory of backlash: Dynamic resistance and the central role of power." Politics & Gender 4, no. 4 (2008): 623-634.
  • Burke, M. C. and M. Bernstein (2014) ‘How the Right Usurped the Queer Agenda: Frame Co-Optation in Political Discourse’, Sociological Forum, 29(4): 830-850.
  • Choudry, Aziz (2010) ‘Global Justice? Contesting NGOization: Knowledge, Politics and Containment in Antiglobalization Networks’, in: Learning from the Ground Up: Global Perspectives on Social Movements and Knowledge Production (eds. A. Choudry and D. Kapoor). New York: Palgrave, pp. 17-34.
  • Puar, J. (2013). Rethinking homonationalism. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 45(2), 336-339.
  • Najam, A. (2000) ‘The Four-C’s of Third Sector-Government Relations: Cooperation, Confrontation, Complementarity, and Co-Optation’, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 10(4): 375-396.
  • Corntassel, J. (2007) ‘Partnership in Action? Indigenous Political Mobilization and Co-Optation During the First UN Indigenous Decade (1995-2004)’, Human Rights Quarterly, 29: 137-166.
  • Ferguson, M. L. (2005) ‘“W” Stands for Women: Feminism and Security Rhetoric in the Post-9/11 Bush Administration’, Politics and Gender, 1: 9-38.
  • Daggett, Cara (2018) ‘Petro-masculinity: Fossil fuels and authoritarian desire’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies 47(1):
  • Mal, Andreas and the Zetkin Collective (2021) White Skin, Black Fuel: On the danger of fossil fascism. Verso Books.
  • Farris, Sara (2017) In the Name of Women’s Rights: The rise of femonationalism. Durham and London: Duke University Press.



The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.