UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Resistance in and of the university : neoliberalism, empire, and student activist movements Carey, Kristin


In a time of global neoliberal precarity that follows from perpetual war, uncontracted labour, and heightened forced global migration to name a few contemporary violences, there has been a noticeable rise of protest both nationally and also localized to university campuses in the United States. Experiencing the historical weight of racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and nationalism on college campuses, students are claiming public and digital spaces as sites of resistance. These movements trace connections to the accomplishments of the civil and academic rights movements of the 1960s, by again and still asking for institutional responses to white supremacy and systems of oppression (Ferguson, 2012) while realizing they take different shapes due to the international, national, and local forces that call them into being. This paper provides some preliminary mapping of the student activist and institutional responses to student movements. Necessarily, my work also historicizes the how the university is shaped by national and global political and economic violence and structures—namely, neoliberalism and empire. Using feminist, queer, and critical race theory as my theoretical and methodological frameworks, I examine two case studies of student protest: The University of California, San Diego of 2009 and the University of Missouri in 2015. I ask questions about the production of student political subjectivity, as both process and product. Using what Guattari and Rolnik (2008) term capitalist subjectivity, I am particularly interested in analyzing how a particular, perhaps alternate kind of student (activist) political subject(ivity) emerges in/out of confrontation with the university’s normative student subjectivity, but nonetheless constituted in relation to it. This thesis works within a historico-political moment (2009-2015), and hopes to both interrogate and understand the university, its strategic gains for social justice, and what we make of its role in the here and now.

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