From my blog: There are striking similarities in political discourses that try to dismiss student protests as…

From my blog: There are striking similarities in political discourses that try to dismiss student protests as “impolite” and “undemocratic.”

Originally shared by The Other Sociologist

Applied Sociology in Action: Student Protests in Taiwan & Australia

New on my blog, I look at the similarities in the public reactions to student protest in Taiwain and Australia. In March, sociology students in Taiwan were criticised for being released from class to attend peaceful protests occupying a government building. They were protesting a trade-in-service agreement with China. On the one hand, Taiwan’s Education Minister said that teachers should support their students’ education rights. On the other hand, he criticised teachers for supporting this through peaceful protest. Instead, he argued that teachers should have done this _”through rational debates and discussions.”

Today in Australia, students are being similarly critiqued for protesting the deregulation of university fees as a result of the impending national budget. Universities Australia told the ABC program Lateline on 3rd of June that increased fees will mean up to a 60% increase in debt for some university degrees. This translates to an additional 6 years of repayments for full-time workers. For a part-time worker who takes time away from paid work to start a family, the research suggests this could mean up to 20 years additional debt.

Much like the Taiwanese students, Australian students have been criticised for disrupting another popular ABC political program, Q&A, as part of their demonstration, and for ongoing peaceful marches around the country. The student protests were even called, effectively, “undemocratic” and “unproductive” by conservative commentators.

The idea that students should be relegated to quiet debate behind closed doors is the antithesis of social justice movements and civil rights action. Only people in power, who are not at risk by new laws, would make such an argument. It’s clear that class and power play out in similar ways in two very different democratic contexts in the Asian region.

Read more on my blog: #sociology #socialscience #education #students #australia #taiwan

5 thoughts on “From my blog: There are striking similarities in political discourses that try to dismiss student protests as…

  1. Student protests of this sort are demonstrably democratic, in that they give students access to media and influence upon the populace that they likely couldn’t afford to purchase outright, unlike their socially and financially empowered lawmakers. Conservative commentators, by their very comments, prove the effectiveness of the students’ efforts.

    Only people in power who are at risk from popular protest would make a contrary argument. Those people inept enough to make such an argument must be removed from their positions of power and influence.

    We see this in the U.S., too, of course, although the last decade has seen authoritarian disagreement escalate from mere argument, isolation, and suppression to threats, arrest, and violence against generally peaceful protesters. I hope for better relations and outcomes for the students of Taiwan and Australia.

    Real democracy speaks aloud, honestly, and in public.


  2. Thanks for your excellent comments Michael Verona. What’s interesting is that some of those conservative critics are hypocritical. On the one hand, we have politicians like Joe Hockey, Australia’s current Treasurer, who protested against the introduction of university fees when he was a student. And yet his budget is now deregulating university fees which will make higher education less affordable and viable for many people! On the other hand, we have conservative commentators who hark back to the “good ole days” when students knew how to protest (a nostalgic, media-driven ideal of how “good” protesters should behave). In both cases, of course, these commentators are defending their way of life and ideals, and dismissing the social action of youth, which threatens them in the present day. Very sad state of affairs when people only want social justice for themselves.


  3. As you point out, Zuleyka Zevallos, these commentators are defending their way of life and ideals that they achieved, in part, by their own youthful social actions. They have come to view social justice not as the achievement of prior protest in favor of everyone, but as a personal reward to be guarded jealously. They have become dragons, curled tightly around the freedom and equity they hoard for themselves.


  4. I’m reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath, in which he discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the strong and weak and the relations amongst them.

    The strong of course want the weak to play by their rules, thereby increasing their dominant position. If the weak do so, they are highly likely to lose. If, however, the weak don’t play by the rules of the strong and instead play to to their own strengths, then the strengths of the strong become weaknesses and the weak are much more likely to beat the strong. That is the basis of guerrilla warfare and why small forces sometimes vanquish much larger and more powerful ones.


  5. Veg Nik Good analogy to Gladwell’s David and Goliath and not playing by the rules of the dominant group. Changing the focus of the conversation, or the rules as you put it, from the interests of the powerful to the interests of a vulnerable public or less powerful group destabilises the system, which is why we see so much push back on student protests. Making the discourse about “undemocratic” expressions of political action is about attaching stigma and therefore invalidating the concerns of students. If the students didn’t have a valid point, conservatives would not feel a need to resort to such narratives and they would instead focus on the specifics of the students’ arguments.

    I disagree with the analogy to guerrilla warfare. Insurgency has other political dimensions, such as the fact that it happens amongst civilian groups, using tactics that the international community has not sanctioned (as preposterous as it seems that international agencies need to agree on rules of engagement of war!). My analysis on students is about non-violent protest, which is specifically about not physically hurting the populace, not violent resistance (which does the opposite). 😉


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