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Session Overview
RN30_02b: Participation II: Activism and social movements
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Carlo Genova, University of Turin
Location: GM.303
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road

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Activation of Student Protest : Reactions, Repression and Memory at Nanterre University, 1968-2018

Simon Ridley, Paolo Stuppia

Université Paris Nanterre, France

After a decade of low intensity activism in French higher education, 2018 seems marked by the return of mass students protests. The “ORE” reform blamed for introducing heightened selection in a public sector that has been put under pressure by a series of neoliberal policies is criticized by left wing students and their unions. In a context of high state policing of social movements, the students have suffered important levels of repression. On April 9th, at Nanterre university, the riot police entered the campus and violently disrupted a general assembly of students. As a result, the movement was galvanized, and 1800 people gathered to protest the reform. The historical and local context is particular: 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the May 68 protests, hailed as the model for modern student movements.

We can observe that the general focus for this anniversary is no longer only on protests, but that is has been used by the University Administration as a tool for depoliticizing May 68 and infantilizing the current movement; and as a resource for student unions to recruit new members, as a symbol of continuity of struggles. Hence, we aim to examine the different framings of the movement and the activation of collective memory.

As scholars at Nanterre University, working on student protests, we have conducted a study concerning the relationship between history, memory and technologies of student movements. From an interdisciplinary approach, and making use of a variety of first-hand sources, this proposal aims to look at the diversity of performances taken by students to protest the reform, responses by institutional actors and their linkage with collective memory.

Constructing Youth As Political Actors: A Comparative Study Across Higher Educational Institutions In Europe

Achala Gupta1, Rachel Brooks2

1Asia Research Institute, NUS; 2University of Surrey

Higher education students have often been viewed as important political actors in wider society, stemming largely from their activities in the 1960s. Indeed, despite only a relatively small proportion of students taking part in the 1960s protests, there remains – in many countries of the world – an expectation that students should be involved in politics and, as Williams (2013) has argued, a perceived need to offer explanations for their lack of involvement. Such debates have recently been entangled with others about students as part of a ‘snowflake generation’, unable to engage in rigorous political debate with those who hold different political views and in need of ‘safe spaces’ within higher education (Finn, 2017; Fureidi, 2017) – while an alternative body of work has suggested, in contrast, that students have often been at the forefront of many contemporary protests, both on and off campus (Brooks, 2016). Nevertheless, like much of the literature on youth political participation, research has rarely explored the extent to which student political participation varies across nation-states. This article begins to redress this gap by drawing upon data collected from 54 focus groups with undergraduate students, and interviews with 72 higher education staff across six different European countries (Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain). We highlight some notable differences in understandings of students as significant political actors both between nation-states and within them, and explain such differences in terms of a range of historical, social and political factors, including the degree of marketisation evident in the higher education sector.

Youth Conditions, Student Movements, Neoliberal Education Policies, and Protest: a Case-Study

Lidia Lo Schiavo

University of Messina, Italy

Young people in different regions of the world are facing a multifaceted crisis: economic, social and political. According to scholars, youth conditions are characterized by increasing inequalities and have worsened after the global economic recession. A lengthy cycle of neoliberal education and labour market policies are part of a global transition regime that hugely impacts on young people’s opportunity structures and lives. Thus, a generational perspective is central to the theoretical and empirical debate, which emphasizes the transnational resonance of youth protests against austerity and neoliberal policies in the aftermath of world recession. The empirical case study proposed here seeks to assess the main aspects of this constellation of factors by focussing on three Italian student organizations (the Students Union, Link, the Knowledge Network, for secondary school and University students) observed in a two-year qualitative research project, which included sixty interviews, and participation at their assemblies and mobilizations. Following the last waves of student mobilizations in Italy, the identities of these three organizations lie in-between social movements and student unions, and have continued to mobilize against a long-term cycle of neoliberal education reforms. Their members include different generations, providing a setting enabling students of different ages to interact while expressing themselves via different practices and forms of political participation. This proposal aims to assess the main empirical findings analytically and critically, and also to highlight the innovative modes of political action adopted by these student movements in response to the impact of neoliberal education policies on youth conditions.

Making It Political? Young Animal Rights Activist - In And Between Social And Political Activism In Estonia.

Reelika Pirk

Tallinn University, Estonia

The repertoires of political participation - ways how people participate in democratic decision making processes - are in modern democratic countries changing. The most vivid changers are young people, who have been widely ascribed to conventional political apathy (e.g. abstaining from voting and participation in formal political institutions). And, at the same time, are young people seen as revivers of social movements and users of other, less institutional forms of social activism for political cause (political consumerism, protest actions, internet activism, etc.). These new forms, which can be described as fluid, informal and non-binding are showing signs of growing popularity for political actions, at least among young. What brings youth to take part in forms of activism, which in some cases, claims more knowledge, time and self-sacrifice than voting in elections? Are young making it political with other means? The aim of this paper is to describe the actors from this new line of political participation - what makes young people to dedicate themselves to social actions, that aim political change. What are the motivating aspects for youth to stand for change that has little to do with their own wellbeing? The research is based on my ongoing PhD study, where I investigate youth’s political participation repertoires. The empirical part of the paper considers the initial findings from youth socio-political (an animal rights) movement in contemporary Estonia. An in-depth analysis is based on case study including interviews, field notes and observations.

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