Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 March 2021
This book has analyzed student protests in four regions in South America, North America and Europe. In doing so it has aimed at contributing to social movement studies in several directions.
First, in considering contextual constraints and opportunities, the text has contributed in two ways to traditional approaches that have explained contention in terms of structural opportunities. With the aim of introducing political economy in the study of HE and of student protests, we looked at how the dominant form of capitalism, neoliberalism, has affected the current field of HE, its policies, and its actors. In doing so, and bearing in mind the processual approach taken, political opportunities were considered not as a given but rather as one of the dimensions affected by social movements themselves. In this endeavour, regions with distinct models of HE were examined, selected on a continuum going from ‘state-oriented’ (Italy and Quebec) to ‘market-oriented’ (England and Chile) HE sectors.
Second, looking at mobilizing resources, the authors considered student politics as a combination of both protest and associational politics in collective action to promote student claims, looking at long-term cultural dispositions as well as adaptations to the interactions with various players in the field of HE. It was noted that the capacities to adopt various types of strategies, ranging from conventional to disruptive, in coordinated fields of movement politics, increased the chances of policy impacts. Rather than singling out a specific strategy as the most successful, the book examined the evolution of a series of (more or less) strategic moves during movement campaigns as interactions with other actors favoured some choices, but blocked others.
Third, in order to deal with complex policy fields, a processual approach was adopted, looking at protest campaigns as eventful experiences with the potential to impact on social structures. In this sense, resources and constraints were not taken for granted but rather created in action as students interacted within complex webs of relations in policy fields. Mobilization processes included different steps, even if these steps were not in a neat sequence. In all cases studied, proposals for neoliberal adjustments (mostly in the form of fee hikes) operated as suddenly imposed grievances, triggering a protest event that acted as a positive shock, starting a wave of further mobilizations.