Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 March 2021
The student movement in social movement studies: an introduction
The research that this volume reports upon analyzes four episodes of student contestation over higher education (HE) reforms, which have recently taken place in Chile, Quebec, England and Italy. More notably, the book explores the institutional and political context in which such episodes occurred, their dynamics and trajectories of mobilization, and their political impacts on HE and on the political arena at large.
The authors argue that, to explain the evolutions and effects of social movement campaigns – how and why they obtain concessions – we must look at the relations between the state and the market in the policy field of HE, and how these relations shape mechanisms and processes that promote or hinder alliances and oppositions in the policy field and the political system at large. In doing so, the interplay among social movements, political parties and public opinion is examined. Drawing on an extensive literature on the consequences of social movements (for example, Bosi et al., 2016b), we explore the ways in which actors such as vice-chancellors, intellectuals, personalities and public figures react to (and interact with) student actions; the extent to which students modify or align with specific dynamics of competition in the party system; and how student movements and the public opinion interact over the course of an ‘eventful’ episode of contention.
The authors observed that, in both Chile and Quebec, as student demands were supported by significant social constituencies and the government proved unable to appease the protests, the opposition parties presented themselves as allies. These parties committed themselves to delivering reforms that would (at least partially) meet student demands, while students attempted to gain influence in decision-making bodies by joining political parties and/or participating in elections. Tuition fees and the costs of HE became central issues of electoral debate in the forthcoming elections in these countries. These processes led these new administrations to deliver reforms (concessions) that were somewhat aligned to the protestors’ demands. By contrast, in England and Italy, the student campaigns had (at least in the short term) lesser impacts on public opinion and the party system, which remained relatively indifferent to their demands.