T13 activism indifference, manch, uk, 2005.


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T13 activism indifference, manch, uk, 2005.

  1. 1. ELÍSIO ESTANQUE Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra - Portugal Activism or indifference? Social recomposition, gender differences and student attitudes at the University of Coimbra* Abstract Due to the expansion of the higher education system in Portugal, under the influence of increasing market forces, two main tendencies emerged at the University of Coimbra: the broadening basis of class recruitment of the students; and the growing presence of women, which already represent the majority of them. This situation brought new contradictions and challenges to the student’s movement. From this starting point, I will discuss some of the sociological complexities around associative participation, using a survey data on student’s practices and attitudes. The objective is to understand the main paths of the current tendencies in terms of associative participation and civic activism, considering the potentialities and limits of the New Social Movements in Portuguese society. I will analyse the actual conditions of collective action and democratic participation, taking in account the collective identity, rituals and traditions, on the one hand, and practices and subjective attitudes, on the other, trying to show how the diversity of trajectories and social representations of students – about society, the University and the students union leadership – help to understand the relative apathy as well as the new forms of civic participation. Introduction As in almost all areas of our social and institutional life, the higher education system in Portugal has undergone profound changes in recent decades. It is a subject that has created a great deal of controversy and tension and there are many diverse and complex ways of approaching it. This paper aims to analyse and question certain aspects of the changes taking place, supported by a survey of students from the University of Coimbra1 . * This paper is part of the project in progress Youth Cultures and Civic Participation: difference indifference and new democratic challenges, settled in CES - Centre for Social Studies (http://www.ces.uc.pt/). This project as been funded by FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (Science and Technological Foundation – Ministry of Science), under the Programme “Sapiens2002”, Ref. POCTI/SOC/45489/2002. It has also been presented at the meeting Alternative Futures and Popular Protests, at the Manchester Metropolitan University (30 th March to 1 st April, 2005). 1 The survey was administered to Coimbra University students in 1999-2000, using a representative sample from the 8 faculties, stratified by sex, and resulted in 1,887 valid responses. The sample was selected on the basis of groups from different courses and years within the range of courses available. Although most of the questionnaires were administered in the classroom, a number equivalent to one medium-sized class in each faculty was administered to students in an area of the faculty outside the classroom. (See sample characteristics in Appendix 1 at the end).
  2. 2. 2 The enormous expansion in the Portuguese university system in recent decades (particularly since the 1970s)2 is undoubtedly symptomatic of the democratisation of university education, which has consequently become accessible to students from working class backgrounds. At the same time, this expansion has given rise to new contradictions which the higher education system has had to confront. From the outset, market pressures and demands for applied and economically useful knowledge have increased. Parallel to this, the problems associated with the social and cultural responsibilities of the university in producing a critical body capable of contributing actively towards changing society have become more pressing. What are the repercussions of this situation on the present social composition of Coimbra students? What new challenges and problems do these changes bring to bear on the current young generation? How do students today relate to civic activism and what are their attitudes towards its forms? What are the main attitudes amongst students towards social life? How can their involvement in associations be characterised? What differences may be detected between boys and girls? Are students' life plans orientated more towards individualism or collective concerns nowadays? These are just some of the questions I aim to address in this paper. 1. Context The process of apparent university democratisation in Portugal has been largely subverted by market pressures. The democratic bid to make higher education more accessible, particularly along the 1980s, had not been subjected to any prior planning or studies of the strategic development of the university system. The interaction either with the other higher education sub-systems or with demographic trends in the student population were not previously discussed. The pressures of demand, faced with a system of numerus clausus that left tens of thousands of candidates behind annually at the university gates, obliged the government of the time to find a political 2 With the creation of many new public and private institutes and universities (which, including the polytechnics, now amount to around 300 establishments) there has been a dramatic rise in the number of students entering university higher education. From around 50,000 at the beginning of the 1970s, (52,883 in 1975/76, cf. A. Barreto, 1996: 93), the number of students in higher education has risen to 388,724 (data for 2003, MCES), almost 100 thousand of whom are in private education. The number of degree courses (in the public universities alone) is currently 470. In addition, women, representing over 60% of the total, have largely come to outnumber men in the Portuguese universities.
  3. 3. 3 answer. On the one hand, it was necessary to sooth student discontent with an applications system that, at the time, left around half the candidates without a university place. On the other hand, the centre-right government also took advantage of the situation to satisfy the private lobby in the higher education market. This process, within the framework of the recomposition taking place in the job market and the policies for financing higher education according to the number of students per school, favoured increased deregulation and a logic of “massification” which contributed towards a gradual decline in the quality and efficiency of higher education and in the universities themselves. Within this context, the case of the University of Coimbra (UC) is of particular interest. Once the only university in the country and the place where, for seven centuries, the cultural, political and administrative elites were educated, the UC found itself obliged to respond and adjust to these changes. As the university with the longest-standing tradition, that had always prided itself on its elitist status and had for centuries been celebrated in literature and traditional songs (the so called Coimbra’s fado), respected and “revered” by various governments, regimes and institutions, it found itself about to be overtaken by other newer institutions that were apparently better prepared to respond to the new demands of competitiveness and job market. On a national level, its sphere of influence began to show signs of weakening, some courses began to attract fewer students and its former leading role was tarnished. A brief historical note is necessary here. Representing over 700 years of history, the University of Coimbra was, until 1911, the only university in the country. The student identity associated with this long tradition was forged largely through countless – official and student – academic rituals characterised by their festive and irreverent atmosphere, the praxe (set of student traditions and initiation rites), the República movement (communal student households animated by a culture of rebellion and intellectual creativity) and also by the various protest actions and campaigns that had become a common feature of university life since the 19th . century. In the 1960s, in particular, the UC became the focus for a number of intense student protests which, as they took place under a political regime with fascist characteristics (the Salazar regime, in force in Portugal between 1926 and 1974),
  4. 4. 4 played an important part in weakening the system and mobilised not only students and citizens but also democratic public opinion and opposition to Salazarism. These student campaigns took place in a very difficult political climate and also at a time when universities in Portugal were extremely elitist, and the UC united students from all over the country. The student culture at the time influenced city life and was the inspiration behind basic cultural and association activities. The pro-democracy movement in the university, which opposed the regime and the colonial war, reached its peak in 1969 when the students boycotted an official ceremony in the presence of the Minister of Education and the President of the Republic of the time, Américo Tomás. The Students´ Union (the AAC – Associação Académica de Coimbra) and the Repúblicas were the main organisers of the student movement of the time and were able to mobilise large numbers of students. Heavy political repression followed in the wake of these campaigns and many students were imprisoned, whilst others were expelled from the university or forced into military service and sent to fight in the colonial war in Africa (in Angola, Mozambique and Guiné-Bissau). In more recent decades, under a democratic regime, students have obviously continued to take part in protests and student union campaigns. From the mid 1990s until recently the main protests were organised under the banner of the campaign against fee increases. Ten years ago the anti-fees movement had some impact, but its political weight has begun to decline, mainly as society and public opinion have increasingly begun to question the reasons behind the protests. In fact, faced with a university system in which students in the private sector had been paying very high fees for a long time (around 300 euros per month at the moment), many people considered that the demands to keep public higher education free (at least until 1997, when fees of around 300 euros per year were first charged) were unfair. In the last two years, the public universities have started to charge around 850 euros per year and the student movement has invoked constitutional law which states that the right to higher education is “essentially free”. However, student involvement in the cause has weakened and is limited to the active participation of just a few hundred students out of a student population which currently stands at around 30 thousand in Coimbra (including the University, the Polytechnic and the private institutions). Parallel to this,
  5. 5. 5 the political content of the student cause has been losing its impact and the mass of students are noticeably distancing themselves from the governing bodies, despite the decentralisation of the base structures through the creation of nuclei in each faculty. On the other hand, the student festivals and rituals continue to absorb the attention of the majority of UC students, although the initiation rites and traditions (praxe) to which first year students are submitted have come in for increasing criticism due to the element of violence involved (there are sometimes complaints of aggressive or humiliating behaviour) and the festivals, such as the Queima das Fitas (finalist celebrations) or the Latada (first year celebrations) seem to be run on market and consumer principles in which the students' aim is to go wild, seeking out excitement and alcoholic consumption, escape and evasion whilst remaining increasingly indifferent to any involvement in cultural initiatives or projects with critical substance. It is in the light of these changing trends that I aim to characterise the social background of the current students and understand their subjective practices and attitudes towards the University and civil and student union activism. 2. Geographical origins The phenomenon of the regionalisation of the universities, by creating an extraordinary increase in higher education opportunities (both public and private, university and polytechnic) has also created a logic of territorial distribution that has led to a spread of specific areas where young students are established, thus producing a “localised” effect. The results therefore show a large concentration of students from the Central Region and in particular from the municipality (22%) and district (34.8%) of Coimbra. The student population from the Central Region is 63%. However, 31.7% do come from other regions and over 5% are foreigners. This has implications for class recomposition in relation to the families of the students, since spatial distribution and the urban-rural dichotomy reflect important social divisions.
  6. 6. 6 TABLE 1 - Geographical origins, by area of studies FAMILY RESIDENCE ORIGINS (%) AREAS OF STUDY COIMBRA CITY REST OF COIMBRA DISTRICT REST OF CENTRAL REGION TOTAL CENTRAL REGION REST OF THE COUNTRY OTHER COUNTRIES LETTERS AND ARTS 19.9 13.0 36.0 68.9 26.1 5.0 LAW 19.2 5.1 25.0 49.3 41.7 8.9 ECONOMICS & MANAGEM. 35.1 20.9 21.3 77.3 15.9 6.7 SOCIAL SCIENCES 15.1 12.3 26.9 54.3 39.6 6.1 NATURAL SC./ MATHEMAT. 19.8 16.5 25.6 61.9 37.2 0.8 MEDICAL SCIENCE 19.5 7.5 29.9 56.9 38.1 5.0 ENGINEERING 32.5 16.0 29.1 77.6 18.6 3.8 SPORTS SCIENCE 16.4 12.1 30.2 58.7 38.8 2.6 TOTALS (N) 22.0 (412) 12.8 (240) 28.2(528) 63.0 (1180) 31.7 (594) 5.2(58) 3. Class origins By comparing class structures3 in the country with the class origins of the UC students, it can be seen that in the country as a whole the upper class (employers and managers) represents 13.6% of the working population, whereas students from this class at the UC total 26.5%, meaning that this class is over-represented in the university student population. The petty bourgeoisie (self employed) represents around 14% of the nationwide sample and 12% in terms of the social origins of UC students. The middle class (supervisors and skilled workers together) represents 41.1% across the country, but corresponds to 28.1% of the students. The unskilled working class is represented by the same percentages in both the nationwide sample (31.2%) and the class origins of the student population (33.1%). Even though these results clearly indicate that the system has become more accessible, they cannot be considered a direct reflection of rising social mobility. The profound structural changes that have taken place in Portugal in recent decades prevent such a linear interpretation. Firstly, this data refers only to the university population (those who have already entered university) and so cannot include the influence of the “class” variable on those excluded from the system (in Portugal only 9% of the population aged between 25 and 64 possessed a higher education qualification in 2002, whilst the average figure for OECD countries was 16%). 3 For the class typology construction I used Erik Olin Wright model (Wright, 1985), but here some of the class categories were aggregate. However, one needs to remind that propriety, authority and skills were the main resources used to build up this class framework.
  7. 7. 7 TABLE 2. Class origins of students and the national class structure (%) CLASS ORIGINS OF STUDENTS* NATIONAL CLASS STRUCTURE ** EMPLOYERS 18.9 9.3 SELF EMPLOYED WORKERS 12.0 13.8 MANAGERS 7.6 4.6 SUPERVISORS 14.7 14.4 TECHNICIANS / SKILLED WORKERS 13.7 26.7 NON-SKILLED WORKERS 33.1 31.2 TOTAL (N) 100 (1499) 100 (1144) * Survey to UC students (1999-2000). ** Survey to Social Attitudes of the Portuguese (ISSP, 1999). Undoubtedly the young people excluded from access to higher education come, on the whole, from lower class backgrounds or, in other words, the roughly 33% of UC students from working class families represent only a fraction of the entire group of young people who come from that class, whilst the children of the “employers” and “managers” or the “upper class” in general, although they represent a small section of today's students, may form part of a segment of young people who – although they are a minority in society and in the university population – in general easily gain access to higher education. Secondly, there has been a profound restructuring of professions, sectors of activity and the employment market in Portugal, so that the concept of “social mobility” is problematic. Within the space of roughly twenty years, the agricultural sector has shrunk drastically whilst the tertiary sector has shot up by more than 50%, so that it is important not to confuse professional reconversion with new opportunities or “upward mobility” processes. A strong measure of recomposition and flexibility within the employment market has led to a loss of prestige or security or even the “proletarianisation” of certain professional categories whose members are highly educated. Thirdly, it is known that the question of education and its continuing expansion in advanced societies has led to school qualifications becoming devalued. Thus, in order to maintain a privileged position in the social structure it is necessary to monopolise the higher academic qualifications that are more difficult to obtain (such as Masters degrees and PhDs). This means that the high level of absolute and structural mobility that takes place in rapidly changing societies often equates with
  8. 8. 8 maintaining unequal opportunities, both at work and in the acquisition of the rarer qualifications (Cabral, 1997; Grácio, 1994 and 1997; Estanque, 2000). 4. Gender differences It is known that girls form a majority in the current student population, given that they represent over 60% of the total. If we transpose student class origins onto distribution by sex, we can observe (see Graphic 1, below) an identical number of boys and girls in the various social strata, except that there is a clear majority of girls from the working class (34.5%, compared with 28.9% of boys). This is an important element to take into consideration when characterising the changes that are taking place and trends in the recomposition of students in higher education in Portugal, particularly with regard to their distribution according to sex. It is known that women in general are more successful academically than men at all levels of education (Grácio, 1997; Seixas, 2002; Balsa et al., 2001). However, if this explains, to a certain extent, the growing female presence in university education, we believe that factors specific to Portuguese society are also involved and need to be explained. Graphic 1. Class origins, by gender Class origin N on-skilled w orkers Skilled w orkers Supervisors M anagers Self-em ployed Em ployers Percent 30 20 10 0 Gender Females Males For sociocultural reasons, boys tend to begin their working life earlier than girls (not forgetting the fact that in the less well-off classes this pressure is greater) and,
  9. 9. 9 given that girls tend to get better results in secondary school, it is only to be expected that this, combined with a lack of economic resources and the existence of children of different sexes, means that amongst working class children, the “choice” for higher education tend to fall on the girl. However, the greater success and greater presence of girls in higher education is far from reflecting equivalent opportunities for women in the employment market. The sexual division of labour and fixed gender roles in domestic life are still strongly present in Portuguese society, and the effects of patriarchy can be seen in the limited access to positions of authority and leadership available to the female workforce. 5. Values and subjective attitudes The results for values show the importance attributed by students to (in descending order) the family, affective life and career. The latter occupies a clearly defined position, but student concern for the family and their career vary according to gender. With regard to this, I would like to emphasise three points. Firstly, both boys and girls followed the general trend of attributing greatest importance to the family, followed by affective life and finally career. Secondly the percentages for girls are higher in all options. Thirdly, comparing relative values, boys attribute more importance to matters such as sex and leisure activities, which are mentioned far less frequently by the female student population. Although not mentioned often by the students, these activities should not be disregarded, since it is well known that leisure and consumer practices, with all the bars, parties, discotheques etc. in the city of Coimbra are mainly animated by the student youth (Fernandes et al., 1998; Lopes, 2001). Another aspect worth mentioning, given its significance in Coimbra, is the student festivals. In addition to the Queima das Fitas (finalists) parade (and, more precisely, their presence on top of the decorated floats), which is the most important part of the academic rituals for both boys and girls, activities such as the Gala Ball, the blessing of the pastas (student files) and the wearing of the academic gown are particularly important to the female sex, whilst the concerts in the park, the Latada
  10. 10. 10 (first year) procession, the garraiada (bull run) and even the first year initiation rites (praxe) are valued more by boys (Estanque, 2005). 6. Orientations, association membership and activism The analysis of orientations and subjective attitudes once again needs to be placed within the broader context of the sociocultural situation being studied. Whilst it is true that the UC has always been closely associated with the emergence of new values and student movements (even when these were violently repressed), in the light of the huge increase in the student body and career pressures (a refection of the increased influence of neoliberal principles on the economy and on society), it is important to determine to what extent the struggle to find employment and the concerns for the family that have just been demonstrated might inhibit young students from becoming involved in student union affairs and in civil and political activism. The approach used here towards orientations in social and personal life makes use of a typology that has been used before in studies on student attitudes (Machado, et al., 1990 and 2003). It involves a scale of attitudes from which respondents choose one option out of four possible models of orientation presented to them4 which are: a model emphasising everyday and individual interests (the self- centred everyday); a model which emphasises everyday affairs together with an involvement in social and collective affairs (the socio-centred everyday); a model that focuses on a future project in which individual interests prevail (the self-centred plan); and a model which focuses on a future project in which an involvement in society and collective interests prevail (the socio-centred plan). The results reveal some interesting findings (see Graphic, below). Firstly, socio- centred orientations prevail over self-centred ones, secondly, the self-centred plan is more marked amongst students than the self-centred everyday and thirdly, when both sexes are compared, the orientations of the girls are more openly socio-centred than those of the boys. At first, this data seems partly to contradict certain well-known diagnoses of the individualism, indifference and empty values of present-day youth, even though the 4 The typology was designed on the basis of responses to specific questions which intersect the 4 sets of values along 2 axes: collectivism/ individualism and everyday/medium-term plans.
  11. 11. 11 responses associated with hedonism and socialising are very significant (Lipovetsky, 1989). When the results are viewed in terms of the different courses it can be seen, firstly, that the percentage distribution remains very regular or, in other words, there is very little significant variation in relation to the different areas of study (see Table 3). Graphic 2. Attitudes about social life, by gender Attitude towards life socio-centr everyd self-centr plan socio-centr plan self-centr everyd Percent 40 30 20 10 0 Gender Females Males TABLE 3. Life course representations, by area of studies (%) AREAS OF STUDIES SELF-CENTRED EVERYDAY SOCIO-CENTRED PLAN SELF-CENTRED PLAN SOCIO-CENTRED EVERYDAY LETTERS AND ARTS 9.2 33.8 18.1 38.8 LAW 5.9 34.0 27.5 32.7 ECONOMICS & MANAGEM. 9.7 25.0 36.0 29.2 SOCIAL SCIENCES 7.1 33.9 20.6 38.4 NATURAL SC./ MATHEMAT. 11.0 34.7 20.3 33.9 MEDICAL SCIENCE 8.3 38.5 24.5 28.7 ENGINEERING 15.3 28.4 26.6 29.7 SPORTS SCIENCE 12.3 29.8 28.1 29.8 TOTALS (N) 9.4 (174) 32.7 (603) 24.7 (455) 33.3 (614) The relative balance between the two models that feature most strongly in the perceptions of the respondents (socio-centred everyday/socio-centred plan) is one of the most salient points. In this respect, the departments which differ most are, firstly, Letters and Social Sciences, in which the socio-centred everyday model features more strongly and, secondly, Medical Science, followed by Natural
  12. 12. 12 Sciences/Mathematics and Law in which the socio-centred plan features more strongly. Economics and Management Science emerge as the areas in which, contrary to the dominant trend, the self-centred plan is more predominant and the socio-centred plan features least and there is also less interest in the socio-centred everyday. Medical Science (38.5%), Natural Science (34.7%) and Law (34%) seem to be the departments which show a greater identification with life plans governed by social concerns5 . TABLE 4. Students participation in Union activities, by area of studies (%) PERCENT OF PARTICIPATION FACULTY GROUPS AAC ACTIVITIES AREAS HIGH SOME LOW ANY HIGH SOME LOW ANY LETTERS & ARTS 3.5 3.1 21.0 72.4 4.0 1.2 13.1 81.7 LAW 0.6 7.7 14.7 76.9 1.3 1.3 8.1 89.3 ECONOMICS & MANAGEM. 4.8 6.7 19.0 69.4 0.4 4.5 8.2 86.9 SOCIAL SCIENCES 4.4 10.6 20.7 64.3 3.6 3.8 14.3 78.4 NATURAL SC./ MATHEMAT. 5.9 5.1 15.3 73.7 1.7 5.2 8.6 83.6 MEDICAL SCIENCES 3.1 7.0 23.6 66.3 1.1 3.7 13.2 81.9 ENGINEERING 4.7 6.0 23.8 65.5 5.1 4.7 14.5 75.6 SPORTS 5.3 15.0 32.7 46.9 4.4 20.2 15.8 59.6 TOTALS (N) 4.0 7.7 21.3 67.0 2.8 4.5 12.5 80.2 Attitudes towards society may also be related to the results for association activities and experiences. It is already known that, in general, the tendency to become involved in civil and political issues has diminished. However, recent research has detected signs of stability in association and political activities, leading us to believe that, beside maintaining significant levels of association membership in the country (34% in 1990, moving to 25.6% in 1999), post-materialist values have been consolidated within the context of the EU and in Portugal itself, although we are still far from attaining the European average in this area (Delicado, 2003: 232-241). Let us see the student’s Union affiliation data at the UC. In the case of Coimbra, it is worth relating these results to collective and individual trajectories and 5 Transposing these results onto the students' class origins does not provide any proof of the capacity of the variable "class origins" to explain these orientations. The models which feature most strongly (the socio-centred everyday and the socio-centred plan) are still relatively uniformly distributed amongst UC students and do not reveal any particular associations with the students' class backgrounds.
  13. 13. 13 experiences. It should be recalled that, for example, membership of the Associação Académica (AAC) is simply a bureaucratic process, since students are automatically enrolled when they matriculate. It may therefore be said that “the largest student union in the country” is not necessarily the one that has the most active members6 . In recent years the number of voters in elections for Student Union leadership, has wavered between 15% and 23% and attendance at meetings and assemblies reveals how difficult it is, in general, to mobilise the student body, which is also the case with associations in general. An analysis of these figures emphasises, firstly, the low level of student participation, either in relation to the faculty nuclei and the autonomous student structures, or in relation to the various AAC organs. TABLE 5. Perceptions of solidarity and competitiveness among colleagues FACULTIES (%s in column) Letters Law Econom Medic Engen Pharm Psicol Sports Total GENERAL SOLIDARITY 34.4 15.5 33.7 17.4 46.7 36.1 29.2 64.0 35.2 SELECTIVE SUPPORT 45.1 45.8 44.3 53.0 37.2 41.0 47.5 22.8 42.6 PARTIAL COMPETITIV. 9.5 20.6 9.9 14.8 8.4 11.4 15.8 7.0 11.6 GENERAL COMPETITIV. 4.0 14.2 3.4 8.7 2.1 1.2 3.3 4.4 4.4 TOTAL (N) 326 155 323 149 379 166 240 114 1852 This is the most visible general trend, with the lack of participation much more evident in the latter. In terms of distribution by course, it can be seen that departments such as Sports Science (20.3%) and Social Sciences (15%), nevertheless, indicate less indifference (if we add together “a lot” and “some” participation) to the nuclei and the autonomous structures, whereas in the case of participation in the governing bodies of the AAC only Sports Science stands out, with a 24.6% participation rate (using the same criteria of adding together “a lot” and “some” participation). In my view, this data is a little disturbing, given the general trend towards indifference which emerges. Possibly career pressures are so strong nowadays and the cultural and identity bonds with the city have diminished in such a 6 Because, in the case of the UC, the Student’s Union is the only one representing all faculties (differently from what happen in Lisbon or Oporto, where the organizing structures are dispersed among faculties and there are one federation of Unions) this offers more visibility to the leaders which always like to refer the large number of their affiliating basis.
  14. 14. 14 way that they have prevented or seriously weakened the structuring of a strong student identity. The memory of former struggles and student movements – in the 19th. century as well as the 1960s – show signs of becoming lost in history and weakening in the light of the ritual demonstrations of the present day (Bebiano, 2003). Involvement in associations is low, regardless of the criteria used to evaluate it, showing that the UC has lost part of its ability to identify with and mobilise students for civil intervention. Conclusions As I have demonstrated, the results of the survey indicate a low level of student participation in association activities and also in Student Union (AAC) elections. This situation is undoubtedly an expression of the more general trends in Western democracy, which show an increasing separation between citizens and political action. It is important to bear in mind that the traditional forms of public intervention and modes of political activism that existed throughout the second half of the 20th . century have changed profoundly. On the one hand we have seen the emergence of a whole set of new dynamics and forms of social and territorial mobility, the intensification of all forms of global flow, the increased presence of new information technologies, a rise in urban concentrations etc., which have led to dramatic changes in the ways in which we live in society and to much more individualised social relations. In addition, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet empire, the ideologies that had, for over a century, galvanised the major social movements to collective action inspired by utopian emancipatory models began to decline overall. The powerful popular movements that existed in a very radical political and ideological context in Portugal in the 1970s achieved high levels of participation, but this was soon exhausted and a lack of interest in public affairs increased as the democratic regime stabilised. Nowadays this democracy has been consolidated and has brought new opportunities and enabled the working class to have access to lifestyles and consumer habits that are close to those of the middle class, even though the economic and social situation in the country still reveals many problems
  15. 15. 15 associated with development and social inequality. Today's young people have grown up and been educated in this context. University life now functions according to democratic principles and students are represented on all its governing bodies. Although in times of greater student involvement and activism the government and the Ministry of Education were targeted as the main adversaries, the fact is that it is not always easy to identify adversaries. In the present-day scenario, it has become difficult to appoint any “enemy” capable of arousing a mass protest on the part of the students. It is a fact that activism has always been the prerogative of the minority and therefore, apart from exceptional and revolutionary situations, it is mainly the “vanguard” that is active and prepares the way for collective action. Yet, although the old utopias have been abandoned, it is impossible now to claim any vanguard potential for the most radical groups of students when they have not reinvented any new utopias to attract young people. Within the context of university expansion and when the paths to rebellion are so poorly-defined, the few centres of radicalism that do exist are threatened by isolation. In the case of the University of Coimbra, the processes of massification, the routines of student life and the increased female presence have changed the atmosphere in the city and there are, in fact, very few focal points for developing alternative social groups. Firstly, most students (who, as I have demonstrated, come from the Central region) either live with their parents or else visit their families every week, often leaving on Fridays and returning on Mondays. To a certain extent this reduces the opportunities to reinforce group identities and promote intellectual and association activities. Secondly, this regular exodus from the city is also associated with the larger numbers of students from working class backgrounds and young women. They are subjected to greater family pressures to finish their courses as quickly as possible with a view to rapidly securing a place in the job market. In addition, as we have seen from the survey, the family and career prospects are the main concerns voiced by students, and girls (whom it should be remembered form the majority of working class students) reveal the strongest bonds of all with the family. Thirdly, the phenomenon of the increased female presence has clashed
  16. 16. 16 significantly with the student culture in Coimbra, given that the academic tradition is very male-orientated. The celebratory rituals, processions, the praxe horseplay, even the actual songs associated with the symbolism of the University are all imbibed with patriarchal values and attitudes, in which a certain element of “marialvismo” (aristocratic machismo) still persists. In some cases (symbolic or physical) violence and in other cases sexist behaviour have tended to relegate girls to second place. Women are not even allowed to sing the Coimbra fados. The student union leaders and activists in general are mainly boys. Some actions aimed at criticising the student praxe and traditions have been initiated by groups of young women who have denounced this situation. These factors as a whole have contributed towards limiting the development of a public arena for ongoing debate, focussing on a spirit of criticism and intellectual (and academic) reflection. The governing body of the UC itself has neglected to promote and lead structures, areas and initiatives that stimulate activism and student participation at all levels of academic and city life. However I do not wish to end on this pessimistic note, nor would it represent a true portrait of student life. As the results of the survey also show, the majority of students reveal clear inclinations towards collective involvement. In relation to this, it should be noted that girls are distinguished by their greater interest in social matters, whilst boys participate more in student associations. Whatever the case, the data shows that the majority of students place more importance on the social rather than the individual side of life, with most responses indicating a "socio-centred" orientation, both towards everyday life and future plans. This may be seen as a positive indication in favour of participation in public life. In addition, in the latest elections for AAC officers (which took place whilst this paper was being written), the level of participation increased in comparison with previous years, with around 35% of students voting. Other aspects worth noting are related to the way in which, in the present socio- political climate, involvement in public issues is taking place. The interventions of the student union leaders have begun to display an increasing concern with decentralisation and there is now a collection of faculty structures (course nuclei) that promote a variety of both civic and academic initiatives, including debating sessions,
  17. 17. 17 informal discussion groups, an interest in studying the university itself as a sociological phenomenon, regular publications of faculty newspapers and sometimes cultural events. Alongside this, the organs of the AAC have promoted a wide variety of cultural and civic activities, ranging from cinema and theatre to the running of a radio station and a quality newspaper and various sporting and cultural events. At this moment, various programmes have been announced that are aimed at raising awareness of social problems, poverty and inequality and promoting solidarity. Even though the leaders are sometimes accused of political opportunism (since the reputations forged by the main leaders later help them to get prime jobs and institutional positions), the way in which they use the media and set their agendas accordingly reveals an effort to adapt to modern public life that very often reaps favourable rewards for students and can affect the wider public debate. The «Repúblicas», where students live collectively, are microcosms governed by the management of shared responsibilities and the promotion of individual initiatives, thus becoming important focuses for political and cultural experiences. Through the collective sharing of everyday problems, the defence of individual autonomy and even their critical intervention and denunciation of tradition, these households become centres for rebellion which may, in the long term, play a decisive role in revitalising the student movement as a whole. Some of the most radical activists behind the recent protests live in these communities. Although they are isolated to some extent from the student body, their potential critical attitude is significant and their role may become even more important if they are able to create a dialogue with the other student structures and overcome their image as the “bad students” in the community. The new social movements and student activism are phenomena that have remained closely linked – particularly since May '68 in France. The social, cultural and political effects of the experiences of the 1960s have been felt directly and indirectly all over the world in recent decades. It is important to realise that the profound changes that have taken place during this time are not unconnected with this revolutionary phase. It is also important to look back on these past events with a view to understanding their complexity and their dialectical relationship with present-
  18. 18. 18 day affairs, rather than simply with nostalgia. It is necessary, on the one hand, to reinterpret, without longing for their return, the historical experiences of the past from the perspective of the present and also to understand the present better through these new interpretations of the past. Nevertheless, the challenges of the present day create new dilemmas, complexities and potential for action for student generations at the beginning of the 21st . century. In the established democracies, at least, involvement and activism no longer operate according to the same paradigms of the classic modes of intervention. Collective action has become fragmented and we are nowadays witnessing the emergence of new forms of action and new ways of influencing institutional decision- making and developing democracy. It may be true that many thousands of young people from the present generation keep away from politics and involvement in associations, but even so individualism does not seem to be the general option. Possibly the fact that we are still used to evaluating politics according the old models prevents us from appreciating the effects of the remarkable volume of information exchanged every day on a global scale between countries and continents. The effect of the “cyber communities” and www networks in public life are less tangible than the collective struggles of the past. But there is no evidence to suggest that their impact is no significant. In a less certain world societies are continually “denationalising” themselves and transferring part of their sovereignty and regulatory mechanisms to the wide world scale. Aside the global market and hegemonic powers strengthening, we should expected that the counter-hegemonic activities and movements also can reinforce the pressure on those powers. Networks and forms of mobilisation are much more fluid and unstable nowadays. The old political causes that were aimed at a far-off future have been replaced by immediate action with media coverage on TV yet, alongside this showmanship, alliances and underground forms of communication, solidarity and denunciation follow their own course, supported by other forms of technology (the internet, mobile phones). Collective struggle is nowadays based more on a desire for recognition and a need to affirm identity. Public initiatives, performances without a cause, mass mobs, the search for collective action, etc., reveal a potential critical
  19. 19. 19 attitude that may yet revert to political expression. However the current leaders – particularly if we think of youth movements, the WSF / World Social Forum or the “alter-globalisation” movements – sometimes seem to prefer a kind of cat-and-mouse game (like playground "tag") or, in other words, a guerrilla warfare that is far removed from the official political arenas of the main party or institutional leaders. And youth, or at least its more rebellious activisms, seems to be investing in these new forms of expression, and in the small associations or micro-movements. Whilst it cannot be expected that this will rebound in huge mass movements, nevertheless new ideas, new pathways to change and a critical political attitude have always been set in motion by the minority. References Balsa, Casimiro, et al. (2001), Perfil dos Estudantes do Ensino Superior. Desigualdades e Diferenciação. Lisboa: Edições Colibri/ CEOS. Barreto, António (Org.) (1996), A Situação Social em Portugal, 1960-1996. Volume I. Lisboa: ICS – Imprensa de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa. Bebiano, Rui (2003) “A cidade e a memória na intervenção estudantil em Coimbra”, Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, 66. Coimbra: CES, pp.151-163 Cabral, Manuel Villaverde (1997), Cidadania Política e Equidade Social em Portugal. Oeiras: Celta. Castells, Manuel (2000), A Era da Informação: Economia, Sociedade e Cultura – Vol I. A Sociedade em Rede. S. Paulo: Terra e Paz. Crompton, Rosemary (1997), “Diferença sexual e análise de classes”, Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, 49, 23-43. Delicado, Ana (2003), “A solidariedade como valor social no Portugal contemporâneo”, in Jorge Vala; M. Villaverde Cabral e Alice Ramos (orgs.), Valores Sociais: mudança e contrastes em Portugal e na Europa. Lisboa: ICS, 199-256. Estanque, Elísio (2000), Entre a Fábrica e a Comunidade: práticas e subjectividades de classe no operariado do calçado. Porto: Afrontamento. Estanque, Elísio (2003), “O efeito classe média: desigualdades e oportunidades no limiar do século XXI”, in Cabral, M. Villaverde (org.), Desigualdades Sociais e Percepções da Justiça Portugal numa perspectiva comparada). Lisboa: Imprensa de Ciências Sociais. Estanque, Elísio (Coord.), et al., (2005), Universidade de Coimbra – Desafios para o século XXI: um estudo sociológico. Relatório de Pesquisa (mimeo). Coimbra: CES Estanque, Elísio e Mendes, José Manuel (1998), Classes e Desigualdades Sociais em Portugal – um estudo comparativo. Porto: Afrontamento.
  20. 20. 20 Fraser, Nancy (1997), Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist” Condition. N. York/ London: Routledge. Honneth, Axel (1996), The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Smith, Dorothy (1999), Writing the Social. Toronto: University of Toronto Press Inc. Grácio, Sérgio (1997), Dinâmicas da Escolarização e das Oportunidades Individuais. Lisboa: EDUCA/ Formação. Lipovetsky, Gilles (1989), A Era do Vazio. Ensaio sobre o individualismo contemporâneo. Lisboa: Relógio D’Agua. Lopes, João Teixeira (2000), A Cidade e a Cultura: um estudo sobre práticas culturais urbanas. Porto: Afrontamento. Machado, Fernando Luís et al. (2003), “Classes sociais e estudantes universitários: origens, oportunidades e orientações”, Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, 66. Machado, Fernando Luís et al., (1990), “Identidades e orientações dos estudantes: classes, convergências, especificidades”, Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, 27/28, 189-209. Mendes, José Manuel de Oliveira (2001), “Todos iguais? Uma análise comparada da mobilidade e das desigualdades sociais”, Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, 61, 79-102. Santos, Boaventura Sousa (Org.) (2003), Democratizar a Democracia: os caminhos da democracia participativa. Porto: Afrontamento. Santos, Boaventura Sousa and Nunes, J. Arriscado (Eds.) (2004), Reinventing Democracy: grassroots movements in Portugal. South European Society & Politics, Vol. 9 (Nº 2). Special Issue. Seixas, Ana Maria (2003), Políticas Educativas e Ensino Superior em Portuga: a inevitável presença do Estado. Coimbra: Quarteto Editora. Wright, Erik Olin (1985), Classes. London: Verso.
  21. 21. 21 ATTACHED 1. Sample FACULTIES N % total Females Males Law School 157 8.3 80.3 19.7 Economics 332 17.6 69.0 31.0 Science & Engineering 382 20.2 40.1 59.9 Letters & Literature 334 17.7 73.9 26.1 Medical Science 152 8.1 69.1 30.9 Pharmacy 169 9.0 71.6 28.4 Psychology & Education Science 245 13.0 86.9 13.1 Sports Science 116 6.1 27.8 72.2 Totals (N) 1887 100 65.0 35,0 Source: Survey of UC students, 1999-2000 ATTACHED 2. Education degrees of student’s families, by geogr. origins (%) SCHOOL DEGREES OF THE FAMILIES (% BY AREA OF RESIDENCE) AREA OF RESIDENCE PRIMARY SCHOOL 1ST LEVEL BASIC SCHOOL 3RD LEVEL SECONDARY SCHOOL FREQ OF COLLEGE FATHER MOTHER FATHER MOTHER FATHER MOTHER FATHER MOTHER COIMBRA CITY 21.2 24.2 15.7 14.0 19.6 15.8 43.5 46.0 REST OF COIMBRA DISTR 52.8 50.6 19.0 23.9 15.1 7.8 13.1 17.6 REST OF CENTRAL REG RREGREGION 45.0 42.9 16.6 17.2 18.0 13.5 20.3 26.4 OTHER REG OF COUNTR 38.3 39.5 25.0 22.1 17.1 14.0 19.6 24.4 PORT SPEAK C. AFRICA 27.4 37.1 17.7 19.4 9.7 97 45.2 33.9 OTHER COUNTRIES 59.5 59.5 9.5 19.0 14.3 2.4 16.7 19.0 TOTAL 38.4 38.9 19.3 19.0 17.4 13.1 24.9 28.9 Source: Survey of UC students, 1999-2000