Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 March 2021
When activists plan a mobilization campaign, decide the timing of their actions, prepare their public discourses and design the modes in which they will attempt to involve their constituencies, among other crucial aspects of all protest movements, they show how agency is at the centre of resistances and struggles. But protest movements are situated historically. Activists do not decide in a vacuum. History, institutions and cultures leave an imprint on the contemporaneity of social movements, not only as structures that condition and limit but also as sources of creativity and agency. To understand what student activists do and how they do it, we must look at the characteristics of the organizations in which they act, where these organizations come from, their connections with the party system, and the traditions of activism that feed and shape the new generations of students.
In this chapter, we focus on two dimensions to explain the ways in which students react to changes in the HE sector. First, the extent to which the student body has access to decision-making instances, at levels that include university governance and the governance of the HE sector, is examined. The question to be answered here is: how do students relate to state and educational institutions? The recognition of students as counterparts, stakeholders or customers signals different ways in which the state regulates students’ access to key instances of decision making. Similarly, access can be regular (institutionalized and regulated by law) or exceptional (dependent upon the willingness of university or political leaders to include students in their decisional bodies). It is maintained that the degree of institutionalization of student representation within HE fields shapes the ways in which students access HE decisional bodies, organize their claim-making and other activities, and helps form their interests and demands. The kind of relations between student organizations and authorities constitutes an important component of the structure of opportunities available to students.
The second dimension, which we call student politics, conceptualizes the forms that student activism takes, irrespective of the degrees of formalization and recognition from the state. The main question here is: how do students do politics?