Fields: Drug & Alcohol History | U.S. History | Atlantic
Advisor: David Herzberg
BA History, University at Buffalo
My project seeks to explain why activists were so successful in redefining drunk driving as a serious crime and an important social issue in the early 1980s. To date, those who have studied the movement have seemed to take for granted that an organization like MADD would be successful. Yet, there were several powerful reasons to doubt that such groups could win: by problematizing previously respectable drinking practices, activists threatened to upset an established model of social drinking which enjoyed wide public support; in their maternalism, activists deployed a political identity that had fallen from the honored place it once held in American life; and, by combining anti-alcohol activism and maternalist politics, these women opened themselves to charges of neo-prohibitionism. I argue that the success of the movement is based on changed attitudes toward children and families that helped reinvigorate maternalism and heighten sensitivity to perceived threats to children.