This article takes as its premise that ‘the notion of disruption [is] central to social movement success, and then goes on to look at student movements in the context of this premise. Now whilst I will not argue that premise here and now (although I do believe the reality to be more nuanced), it is certainly true that participants of social movements are often left feeling there to be no recourse but through disruption.
In the case of secondary-school students, this ‘disruption for change’ attitude is particularly noticeable, albeit often on an individual level, and rarely organised. There are alternative ways of creating change on a local level without “withdrawing cooperation in social relations”, and it is these co-operative modes of institutional change that I believe we need to cultivate in our schools. By the time students reach university and learn political theory the ‘anti-establishment’ attitude is often ingrained, and disruption is an obvious result. Earlier in the educational process, I believe there to be more flexibility in handling institutional change, not least because of the unique role that teenagers hold within (or rather, without) our communities.
The point still stands, however, that teenagers have very little ‘positional power’ in our communities, and this power dynamic desperately needs to be addressed both in and out of the classroom.
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…
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