Category Archives: Student Activism in Social Movements

This dialogue explores the role of student activism in social movements. Contributors were asked to draw on research experience, interests, and even personal experiences in activism to shed light on the potential that student activism holds for producing significant social change in the U.S. and throughout the world – concentrating on what it is, specifically, about student activism that distinguishes it from other bases of activism.

Student Movements and the Power of Disruption

By Gabriela Gonzalez-Vaillant and Michael Schwartz 

Student movements have played a crucial role in many major social and political transformations, at least partially because of their unique social status. Students are young and relatively unencumbered; students as individuals inhabit a transitory identity that they will soon leave, usually without sticky stigma; students in aggregate occupy a dynamic status infused with an energetic new generation each year. These features help to explain why student movements emerge and re-emerge, but they also point to some of the reasons why student movements have so often failed to achieve their social change goals (Taylor and Van Dyke 2007: 277) . In this essay, we seek to understand why and when social movements do succeed in extracting concessions from dominant institutions. We begin by briefly theorizing the notion of disruption as central to social movement success. We then distinguish between two types of disruption that are often practiced by student movements and viewed as similar by sociologists. We argue that the radically different dynamics of these two forms of disruption very often affect the success of student movements in leveraging social change.[i]

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Filed under Essay Dialogues, Student Activism in Social Movements