The Moral Economy of Students: Protest, the Political, and the Quotidian in Student Mobilization

AHA Session 178
Conference on Latin American History 43
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Plaza Ballroom A (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Eric Zolov, State University of New York at Stony Brook
Eric Zolov, State University of New York at Stony Brook

Session Abstract

Students and student movements have loomed large in narratives and analyses of Latin America across the colonial and national periods. Yet scholarship focusing on the historical agency of students across time in Latin America has almost uniformly fixated on a narrowly political scale that emphasizes the connections between ideology, partisanship, and mobilization. While such an approach has revealed the key historical role of students in the political and social history of Latin American nations, this scholarship has overlooked how quotidian issues also shaped students’ activism, organization, identity, and subjectivity. The result has been a rather unnuanced portrayal of university students as political rabble-rousers or doctrinaire and visionary state-makers.

           This panel reconsiders the scale of student politics via a turn to the oft-overlooked and even misunderstood quotidian issues that students faced. Moving beyond questions such as the impact of Cold War politics and transnational movements, the papers on this panel recalibrate the scale of student experience to consider quotidian concerns like tuition and fees, infrastructure (and the lack thereof) at universities, and the classroom experience. We seek to redefine students’ activism by considering the ways everyday experiences shaped student politics and identities. While acknowledging the importance of local, national, and transnational political and ideological struggles, this panel also turns to the more mundane questions students also regularly confronted - issues such as fees and tuition, infrastructure, and educational experiences. Incorporating these elements into more traditional political narratives and analyses, this panel challenges the ideological reductionism that views student mobilization and agency in narrowly “political” terms that simplify the complexities and subtleties of student struggles, experiences, mobilizations, and subjectivities. What did students believe was (and was not) “worth fighting for?” What daily struggles and issues did students face, and how did that shape their own sense of their identity and role in society more generally? How does a move beyond the ideological shape understandings of students as historical actors? These and other questions allow the panel to offer reconceptualizations of what is protest and how it is expressed; what is or is not “political;” and how students defined their own position within, and relation to, society at the broader local, national, and even global levels. By turning our gaze toward the quotidian, we address the “everyday forms” and “moral economies” of student politics, weaving together the social, cultural, and political to ask new questions and offer new interpretations of students as historical agents. The result will ultimately provide an opportunity to reconsider students in a more heterogeneous, complex way, expanding our understanding of the political and of students as political actors.

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