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The Centre on Social Movement Studies

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Student Struggles and Power Relations in Contemporary Universities. The Cases of Italy and England

Lorenzo Cini

The chapter sheds light on the type of institutional response that the recent student mobilizations in England and Italy set in motion locally. While this topic has been relatively widely researched in the US, the same cannot be said about Europe. To date, no study has been carried out on the institutional reaction to student activism within individual universities. How do individual universities react to student mobilizations? What kind of strategies does the university establishment adopt? This chapter aims to assess and compare the counter strategies that the leadership of some Italian and English universities adopted in facing the student mobilizations that occurred within them.

Type: Chapter in edited book
Year: 2016

Social movement scholars have generally disregarded the study of mobilizations within institutions. Even less well-studied are the effects that such mobilizations provoke. This is precisely the topic that the present chapter investigates. More specifically, the chapter sheds light on the type of institutional response that the recent student mobilizations in England and Italy set in motion locally. While this topic has been relatively widely researched in the US, the same cannot be said about Europe. To date, no study has been carried out on the institutional reaction to student activism within individual universities. How do individual universities react to student mobilizations? What kind of strategies does the university establishment adopt? This chapter aims to assess and compare the counter strategies that the leadership of some Italian and English universities adopted in facing the student mobilizations that occurred within them. My hypothesis is that type of leadership makes a difference in terms of institutional response. That is to say, academic leaders tend to be more interested in restoring the conditions ensuring a good environment for teaching and research than challenging student protesters on their terrain. This leads such leaders to be more eager to negotiate and compromise with internal challengers. By contrast, academic managers, whose principal objective is to make their universities highly competitive within the market of higher education, are generally more concerned about neutralizing potential challengers, who might damage the reputation and functioning of the university. In dealing with student mobilizations, then, academic managers are more likely to be confrontational and repressive than academics. Building on this first understanding of the differences between the English and Italian systems, the research questions that I will attempt to answer in the present chapter are the following: were there any differences in terms of institutional response between Italian and English universities when they were faced with student mobilizations? If there were, how can such differences be explained?

Brooks R., Student Politics and Protest: International Perspectives, London: Routledge, 2016

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