Thursday, March 4, 2021

Renée Ann Cramer's "Birthing a Movement"

Renée Ann Cramer is Chair and Professor of Law, Politics, and Society, and the Herb and Karen Baum Chair of Ethics in the Professions at Drake University. She is the author of Cash, Color, and Colonialism (2005) and Pregnant with the Stars (2015).

Cramer applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Birthing a Movement: Midwives, Law, and the Politics of Reproductive Care, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book comes towards the beginning of Chapter 3, which is titled "Mostly Happy Accidents," and subtitled "Successfully Mobilizing for Legal Status." I am a law and society scholar, trained originally as a political scientist, and I use ethnographic and participant-observation research methods in my work. This page is absolutely more “political science” than “sociolegal” – and honestly, I find it more tedious than other pages of the book. When I first thought of writing this book (a decade ago!), I could only conceive of it as a rather standard political and legal mobilization text – which bored me to think about, in large part because I know there is more to what is going on in the cases I study than what a straightforward examination of mobilization would give us. It took quite a while for me to decide on a structure of the book that allows considerable narrativization. Throughout the text, I tell stories about myself, about my research participants, about birth, about conferences, and disciplinary fields – and this is the work I find most exciting to read and write. Page 99 doesn’t have this narrative thread.

This page is, though, important to the over-all argument of the chapter, and the book. It offers concrete examples from my field work of the various ways that lobbyists engaged state-level organizers in learning about and navigating their political systems. The page shows the absolute locality of each success or disappointment – the contingency upon which legislative success rests. This contingency is deeply related to the theoretical underpinning of the whole book, and relates to a favorite quote of mine, written by Elizabeth Mensch in an essay on American legal development, “the most corrosive message of legal history is the message of contingency.” This message denaturalizes the idea that everything is inevitable, that systems have simply arisen and are hegemonic. It makes clear that changing deeply institutionalized norms is possible – but also that it takes a bit of luck, a bit of happy accident. In other words: things get done when people work together, tirelessly, and wait for openings and the right moment. Preparation and pragmatism has to merge with magic.

The other thing I really like about page 99 is that it shows clearly how involved in the process my research assistants were. As an undergraduate student, Jamie (Wall) Hanna was closely tied to this project (she is now a PhD student in Sociology at Northeastern, yay Jamie!). On the morning Jamie and I were supposed to fly to California for fieldwork, my mom had a medical emergency. I trusted Jamie so much that I sent her alone. She came back with two full notebooks of fieldnotes, and an insight into the project that I hadn’t yet had (“Why didn’t you tell me this was about legal pluralism?” she texted me from a hotel conference room). So I really love this page because on it I write, “one organizer told my research assistant ….” And it makes me happy to acknowledge that partnership.
Learn more about Birthing a Movement at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue