Policies, politics, and protests : explaining student mobilization in Latin America
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Latin American college student protesters have been historically a force to reckon with. Scholars have argued, however, that the introduction of neoliberal policies in the late twentieth century would discourage mobilization. Yet, some of the most liberalized higher education systems in the region have witnessed relatively frequent and massive mobilizations in recent years. What explains variation in the frequency and size of student mobilizations in Latin America? To answer this question, I propose a theory of student mobilization that considers explanations based on both social grievances and political opportunities. I argue that, in order to understand the effect of these explanations on protests, mobilization must be disaggregated into two of its main dimensions: the frequency of mobilizations, and the size of protests. The reasons that explain the frequency of protests may not adequately explain the size of individual mobilizations, and vice versa. I claim that social grievances, caused by neoliberal policies, have a positive effect on mobilization. More specifically, the expansion of higher education to include working class students, and the increase in private expenditures, increase both the frequency and size of protests. Meanwhile, political opportunities have an effect on mobilization through student-party linkages – the level of organizational, programmatic, and personalistic connections between political parties and students. I argue that stronger organizational linkages with ruling parties have a demobilizing effect on frequency, but that stronger linkages with the opposition can increase protest size. I use a mixed-methods, multilevel research design to test the theory. At the regional level, I use an original dataset of more than 4,700 protest events to carry out quantitative analyses of student protest frequency and size in Latin America. At the country level, I draw evidence from comparative case studies of student mobilization, higher education policies, and student-party linkages in Chile and Peru. Finally, I carry out a quantitative analysis of a 2012 Chilean survey to test the theory at the individual level. This quantitative and qualitative evidence drawn from different levels of analysis supports the theory’s expectations.
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