this book can be read in (at least) two ways. it
can be read as a general retelling of the antebellum woman’s
rights movement, specifically in terms of the rights of property
and contract, with a focus on how that movement deployed and
refigured social meanings of Womanhood, contract, the  econ-
omy, and the nation. Or it can be read as the elaboration of a new
theoretical frame that can be used to analyze moments of soci-
etal rupture in past, present, and future history by paying close
attention to the particulars of how systems of social meanings
and institutions are intricately interwoven in any given social
order, with the antebellum woman’s rights movement as a case
study of its use. For me, the latter reading is the more important
one, and it is my hope that the theory I propose will provide in-
sights into today’s political and theoretical projects (as pointed
to in the conclusion), including, but not limited to, queer activ-
ism and theory, disability activism and theory, antiracism activ-
ism and theory, feminist activism and theory, and postcolonial
and anti-imperial activism and theory. Still, readers always de-
termine in great part how any text will be used and what it will
become. I hope that both academics and activists find an inter-
est in transforming this text.
I began this work at the end of the first Gulf War, which coin-
cided with the government’s decimation of much of progressive
Introduction
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