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Chile’s 2006 – 2016 student movement: What can we learn from the youth organizing and neoliberal reaction that followed?

Tue, March 27, 1:15 to 2:45pm, Hilton Reforma, Floor: 4th Floor, Doña Adelita


The Chilean student movement has been widely documented as an example of youth organizing towards social change in a context shaped by privatization, individualism, and market logics (Bellei, Cabalin, & Orellana, 2014; Simbuerger & Neary, 2014). Since 2006, secondary -and later- higher education students became a central actor in the country struggle for social justice. As a movement, one of the significant achievements was to question the common sense of the limits of what was possible to imagine beyond the education market installed by the dictatorship and sustained during the post-dictatorship governments (Agacino, 2013; Cabalin & Bellei, 2013). Free, quality and non-profitable education became a shared meaning that gained popular support and shifted the political agenda to end the dictatorship legacy still present in the constitution (Cabalin, 2012; Bellei, 2013).

As the movement successfully captured the attention of the public, the political elite responded with different strategies aiming to co-opt the movement discourse and neutralize its demands. Using neoliberal governance tools (Robertson, Mundy, Verger, & Menashy, 2012), like the creation of presidential advisory councils or the inclusion of moderate students organics as part of the State (Cornejo et al., 2012).The ruling elite was able to conduct the students' demands towards a new generation of neoliberal reforms. The demand for free education became a focalized grant program (OPECH, 2016), the demand for quality education opened the door to the new public management (Fardella & Sisto, 2013), and a new unregulated education market grew to technically assist the non-profitable schools (Assael et al., 2012). Paradoxically, the neoliberal reforms fought by the movement intensified its reach and sophisticated its logic as they interacted with the movement.

This paper describes some of the milestones that shaped Chilean students' struggle for education since 2006. It inquiries in the organizing strategies and the governance mechanism pursued by some of the student's groups that lead the movement, as well as its perception by rank and file student's. Learning about the achievements, challenges, and struggles that Chilean students faced while they developed as a movement, is crucial in the current context of conservative restoration advancing across the globe. As the implementation of neoliberal reforms in education escalates and its injustices spark outrage in different regions of the world. This outrage could work as a breeding ground for localized experiences of youth resistance. We complement the historical account of the movement with interviews to some of the students' leaders, movement organizers, and rank and file members that participated of the student struggle as part of grassroots organizations at different points of the 2006-2016 movement. We inquiry into the student's organizing strategies and the way in which these strategies tensioned the status quo forcing a re-accommodation of the education landscape. Also, this paper examines the perception of the current situation of the movement and its future projections. It is our hope that this paper expanding the understanding of the possible difficulties that similar movements could face and to learn about the process of accommodations that the neoliberal system does to neutralize these social struggles.

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