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Page history last edited by Annika Weinmann 6 years, 4 months ago

Importance of students / student protests pre-1968 

The idea that young people play a key role in shaping or changing society is nothing new. In his book, Weber gives a few examples for this: "les éphèbes athéniens, les escholiers du Moyen Age, le Chérubin du Mariage de Figaro, le jeune et déjà souffrant Werther "et surtout le personnage d'Alcibiade, ce paléo-blouson noir, ce James Dean attique, qui brisait la nuit les statues sacrées et s'embarquait pour l'aventure sicilienne"" (Weber, 1998, pg. 100). However, for a long time they simply represented very marginalized individuals or groups and not an actual age group (Weber, 1998, pg. 100). 

That changed in the nineteenth century; ever since then the student universe has been the “potential seat of opposition, protest, agitation and even revolutionary thrusts of a political nature” (Morin, 1969, pg. 770). 

Examples for this can be seen all over the world: in France, students played a large role in the revolutions of 1830 and 1848; in Europe, there were the “liberal-national-social pushes of 1848” (Morin, 1969, pg. 770); and in Tsarist Russia a revolutionary student movement developed. In the twentieth century, students in Argentina demanded reforms and modernization of universities. 


Starting from 1955 / 1956, students played an even bigger and more crucial role. In America, the start of the contestation of daily life and bourgeoise civilization originated in Greenwich Village, a student quarter in New York City. Furthermore, first Berkeley university and after that other universities in America became “existential centers of counter-society” (Morin, 1969, pg. 771). At the same time, there were student unrests in Spain. In the Soviet Union, students created an anti-Stalin opposition to the process of De-Stalinization which was being carried out. In France, the "national student conference for the solution of the Algerian problem" (conférence nationale étudiante pour une solution au problème algérien) marked the beginning of a progressive resistance of the French students to the Algerian war. 


These dynamics heightened until 1963 - 1966, when a second phase erupted. It was particularly marked by the Cuban revolution, student riots in Latin America and the Middle East and the emergence of youth culture and protests in England (Brighton) and France (“Nuit de la Nation” in Paris). 


In 1967 and 1968, the different, previously isolated forces came together. The 1950s - 1960s were a period predominated by continuing tension due to an internal crisis of values in Western countries, the continuous threat of the Cold War and potential nuclear disaster, and rising opposition to the Vietnam War. In this sense Morin argues that the student revolts of 1967 / 1968 were simply new symptoms of a global humanity crisis (Morin, 1969, pg. 765 - 776). Other countries that experienced student revolts in 1968 include: Poland, Czech Republic, Italy and Germany. The German historian and author Johannes Willms shares Morin's sentiment: in the German newspaper Süddeutschen he writes that "May 68 will no longer be interpreted as a sudden and completely out of the blue thunderstorm, as has been the case up to now, but seen as the epicenter of societal changes that took place over a period of about two decades" (German Federal Agency for Political Education, 2008). 


However, the student protests in France remain unique, as "in no other country did a student rebellion almost bring down a government. In no other country did a student rebellion lead to a workers' revolt, one that rose up from the blue-collar grass roots and overwhelmed the paternalistic trade-union leadership as much as the paternalistic, conservative government" (Independent, 2008).




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