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The Centre on Social Movement Studies

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The Contentious Politics of Higher Education. Student Movements in Late Neoliberalism

Several recent episodes of massive student protests in countries in Europe, Latin America and Africa, have triggered questions over the main characteristics of a new wave of campus activism taking place across the world. For sure, these protests address the neoliberal transformations of the system of higher education, enacted by governments of all political leanings. Although differences between countries continue to be pronounced, national higher education systems are becoming more alike in the sense of being more market-oriented, even in countries with a strong state intervention tradition. Such transformations were not only aimed at meeting effective and well-structured policy designs, but they were also triggered by the logic of vested interests, power relations, and social conflicts. This is where our research interest comes in with our focus on the contentious politics of higher education.

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University students have traditionally engaged in contentious collective action. New generations of political leaders have emerged out of the student movement, often associated to broader hopes of renewal and regeneration. The events of 1968 show students as a key actor committed to a varied program of progressive change which included issues such as the fight against bureaucratism, oppression, and imperialism. The most common depiction of students doing radical politics stems from the images of rallies and clashes with the police in the streets of Paris or Los Angeles. To be sure, education has been traditionally a contentious issue. The right to attend educational programs was one of the core demands of worker movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries all over the world. The origins of the welfare state are closely related to the granting of primary education and the idea of minimum levels of compulsory instruction. Education systems have been one of the components of the welfare state, although scholars have paid far more attention to other aspects such as health and pension systems. In historical perspective, the granting of access to higher education to the lower classes was the culmination of the extension of demands that consolidate the access to education (and state provision of it) as social right.

Student activism has been sometimes related to the emergence of new middle classes and the expansion of the public sector but also as expressions of demands of emerging sectors so far excluded from the political system. Over the course of the twentieth century, and in successive waves which combine contentious and non-contentious mechanisms and their participation in broader struggles along with other actors such as labour unions, women and peace movements, and left parties, student political activism has resulted in democratization (either restoration or further consolidation), the expansion of the welfare state, and overall in the creation of more opened and inclusive societies. Several recent episodes of massive student protests in countries in Europe, Latin America and Africa, have triggered questions over the main characteristics of a new wave of campus activism taking place across the world. For sure, these protests address the neoliberal transformations of the system of higher education, enacted by governments of all political leanings, promoting the outsourcing of personnel, the managerialization of governing bodies, the introduction of tuition fees as well as cuts to public funding. The outburst of the economic crisis in 2008 has represented a decisive watershed in this process of marketization: as many governments across the world have adopted the neoliberal and pro-austerity agenda as a way out of the crisis. These measures accelerated the implementation of neoliberal reforms in countries where they previously did not exist. Although differences between countries continue to be pronounced, national higher education systems are becoming more alike in the sense of being more market-oriented, even in countries with a strong state intervention tradition. Such transformations were not only aimed at meeting effective and well-structured policy designs, but they were also triggered by the logic of vested interests, power relations, and social conflicts. This is where our research interest comes in with our focus on the contentious politics of higher education. Over the past ten years, students of all around the world have indeed contested these policies and their implementation with different degrees of success.

Keynote speakers:

DONATELLA DEL LA PORTA (Scuola Normale Superiore)

THIERRY LUESCHER (Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa)

MANJA KLEMENČIČ (Harvard University, United States)

Discussants:

LORENZO CINI (Scuola Normale Superiore)

CESAR GUZMAN-CONCHA (Scuola Normale Superiore)

THIERRY LUESCHER (Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa)

GIANNI PIAZZA (Università di Catania),

LORENZO ZAMPONI (Scuola Normale Superiore)

News

26/02/2020

CFP Athens conference "Capitalism, Democracy, Contention: A Decade of Crisis" 13-15 May 2020

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Aspiring to shed light on the Greek experience in the era of crisis in a comparative, inter-disciplinary perspective, the Laboratory on Contentious Politics (Department of Political Science and History, Panteion University, Athens), the Centre on Social Movement Studies (Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence) and the Hellenic Political Science Association are organizing an international conference to be held at Panteion University, on 13, 14 and 15 May 2020.

12/12/2019

Prof. Donatella Della Porta to Be Awarded Honorary PhD

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On Friday 13, 2019, the University of the Peloponnese (PSIR) will award an honorary doctorate to Professor Donatella Della Porta, Dean of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at the Scuola Normale Superiore.

22/07/2019

Protest for a future: international report on #FridaysForFuture and the climate strike

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Composition, mobilization and motives of the participants in Fridays For Future climate protests on 15 March 2019, in 13 European cities. A multi-country collaboration report, with contributions from COSMOS researchers Lorenzo Zamponi, Donatella della Porta, Martín Portos, Niccolò Bertuzzi and Daniela Chironi.

21/06/2019

Call for papers: "The Nation and the Radical Left - Practices and Discourses of National Identity in Left-Wing Politics"

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The call for papers is now open for a conference on national identities and left-wing politics.

18/06/2019

Call for papers: “Class without consciousness” – The Politics of Fragmented Class Identities

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The call for papers is now open for a two-day conference on class and identities at the Scuola Normale Superiore on 14-15 November 2019

05/03/2019

A dialogue on labour, trade unions and conflicts

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On the 22nd of March, from 4pm to 7pm, Donatella della Porta (Scuola Normale Superiore) and Maurizio Landini (Secretary General of CGIL) will discuss about labour, trade unions and conflicts.

Publications

Journal Article - 2020

Don’t Call it Climate Populism: On Greta Thunberg’s Technocratic Ecocentrism

Mattia Zulianello and Diego Ceccobelli
The growing popularity of Greta Thunberg has led an increasing number of pundits and scholars to consider her message to be an instance of ‘climate’ or ‘environmental’ populism. This paper challenges this view, and argues that her message is far from being a case of populism.

Journal Article - 2020

Populism between voting and non-electoral participation

Andrea Pirro & Martín Portos
The article focuses on a neglected aspect of populist mobilisation, i.e. non-electoral participation (NEP), and elaborates on the extent to which populist party voters engage politically outside the polling station. While challenging common understandings of populism as inherently distrustful and apathetic, and protest as an exclusive practice of the left, the study critically places NEP at the heart of populism in general, and populist right politics in particular.

Journal Article - 2020

Reverting trajectories? UKIP’s organisational and discursive change after the Brexit referendum

Ofra Klein & Andrea Pirro
While showing UKIP’s projection into a new phase of its political lifecycle, the findings qualify the notion that the party has radicalised its (online) discourse as a result of (offline) organisational changes.

Special Issue - 2020

The Cultural Side of Populism: Politics, Emotions, Music and Subcultures in Populist Times

Manuela Caiani & Enrico Padoan
This special issue aims to combine an analytical perspective with an empirical focus on current populism(s) in Europe and their cultural aspects.

Journal Article - 2020

Filling the Gaps in Populism Studies

Manuela Caiani & Enrico Padoan
This article introduces the conceptual and analytical framework for the special issue, which explores the cultural side of populism: the relationships between politics, emotions, music, and subcultures in populist contexts.

Journal Article - 2019

Alliance building and eventful protests: comparing Spanish and Portuguese trajectories under the Great Recession

Martín Portos & Tiago Carvalho
Social movement research has shed light on the relationship between processes of alliance building and multiple factors related to political opportunities, framing, identities, networks and resource mobilization. However, less is known about the impact of eventful protests on coalition building dynamics.

Monograph - 2019

Social Mobilization beyond Ethnicity. Civic Activism and Grassroots Movements in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Chiara Milan
This book offers an in-depth investigation of the emergence and spread of social mobilizations that transcend ethnicity in societies violently divided along ethno-national lines. Using Bosnia Herzegovina as a case study, the book explores episodes of mobilization which have superseded ethno-nationalist cleavages.

Journal Article - 2019

Close ever, distant never? Integrating protest event and social network approaches into the transformation of the Hungarian far right

Andrea Pirro, Elena Pavan, Adam Fagan & David Gazsi
In this article, we extend our understanding of fringe politics to include relational and thematic elements, namely, the relationship of far-right collective actors with their broader network and the claims made within it. By focusing on often neglected relational and thematic aspects, the study provides new ways to analyse fringe collective actors, the relationship with their environment and the evolution of such a relationship over time.

Journal Article - 2019

From the Rainy Place to the Burnt Palace: How Social Movements Form their Political Strategies. The Case of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba

Leonidas Oikonomakis
Exploring the case of the cocaleros of the Chapare, this article argues that more emphasis should be placed on mechanisms that are internal to the movements, such as: (a) the resonance of other political experiences at home and abroad, (b) internal struggles for ideological hegemony, and (c) the political formation of their grassroots.