Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Rights Consciousness, Rights Mobilization, Family Leave, Work/Life Balance, Law and Society

Major Advisor

Kristin Kelly

Associate Advisor

Jeffrey Dudas

Associate Advisor

Virginia Hettinger

Field of Study

Political science


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


This dissertation traces the process by which individual women come to form their consciousness of work/life balance law and policies that are available to them. Engaging primarily with Law and Society literature on legal consciousness formation, I employ a “process-based” approach, in order to conceptually disentangle the various threads that comprise the sources of legal consciousness formation. I analyze three dimensions that matter to the construction of legal consciousness: the institutional, the ideological, and the instrumental. In doing so, I seek to detect the connection between the individual and the social in the formation of legal consciousness. I use interpretive methods applied to the transcripts of interviews I conducted with 48 women in two different types of workplaces – academic institutions and various branches of the U.S. military.

This process-based approach reveals that legal consciousness around work/life balance policies is formed through formal and informal institutional structures, the communication of ideology (in particular the ideological construct of the ideal worker) and through individual agency. I find that the strongest influence on women’s rights consciousness and rights claiming is ideological, and that the pervasiveness of the ideal worker norm has had negative consequences on work/life balance policies as they currently exist. However, I argue that institutional structures, including self-directed “strategic consciousness networks” offer hope for better policy implementation and, ultimately, for social change.