Revolting pupils

Student Protest
February 26, 1999

"Disembowel Enoch Powell," chanted students at the University of St Andrews in 1969, and faced with that riverine racist one could see their point. Yet the slogan speaks to something deeper. Student protest is stronger on euphony than on strategy. At least that is what Gerard DeGroot and his colleagues seem to think. "The great weakness of student protest is that it is conducted by students," observes the editor (born 1955). "They are, almost by definition, young, reckless and prone to immaturity. They often espouse a naive vision of the world and employ tactics which, due to their lack of experience, fail to take account of the cruel realities of institutional power." There is a recurrent note of plonking pedantry in this collection that might well provoke the reaction it seeks to describe.

Student Protest is less a textbook than an anthology. In 300 pages it offers 19 essays on protest in Britain, France, Germany, Mexico, Iran, China, Korea and the US. The contributors are sociologists, political scientists and historians from UK and US universities. Their work announces itself as revisionist or at least demythologist, internationalist and comparativist. "Student protest is not an isolated phenomenon which occurs in diverse locations at distinct times. It is instead a culture, with all the attendant accoutrements: myths, martyrs, ritual, language, costume and formalised behaviourI Protesters of the present imitate heroes of the past."

The book will be scavenged by undergraduates for material for case study or dissertation, but those seeking a framework, a synthesis or an argument will have to look elsewhere. The "introductory essay" is little more than an hors d'oeuvre ; the much-needed concluding essay is missing, as is a bibliography. In a work of this sort, most of the foreign-language footnotes are redundant; others are mere self-indulgence ("Fieldnotes, May 1989"). Between fetishising footnotes and dishing Dylan, Student Protest protests too much.

Alex Danchev is professor of international relations, Keele University.

Student Protest: The Sixties and After. First Edition

Editor - Gerard J. DeGroot
ISBN - 0 582 35619 9 and 35618 0
Publisher - Longman
Price - 0 582 35619 9 and 35618 0
Pages - 296

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