logo

Cosmos

The Centre on Social Movement Studies

logo

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.

Picture description

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

05/03/2019

A dialogue on labour, trade unions and conflicts

alt
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.

05/02/2019

Call for Papers - Social Movements and Parties in a Fractured Media Landscape

alt
The call for papers is now open for a two-day symposium held under the auspices of the journal ‘Information, Communication & Society’ (iCS) at the Centre on Social Movement Studies, 1-2 July 2019.

04/02/2019

17 Fully funded 4-years PhD positions in Political Science and Sociology and in Transnational Governance, Scuola Normale Superiore

alt
The grant is for 4 years. It is open to students of all nationalities. Coverage of research expenses (conferences, summer schools, research periods abroads) is provided.

Publications

Journal Article - 2019

Ballots and barricades enhanced: far‐right ‘movement parties’ and movement‐electoral interactions

Andrea Pirro
This contribution enhances our understanding of the contemporary far right by focusing on the neglected links between movements and elections within the broader context of contention.

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.