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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An experiment in the politics of experience Lones, Stephen P.

Abstract

Descriptions of the contemporary student radical movement in North America by writers in the social sciences have varied enormously. Some have described the movement as a relatively unified entity opposed to the dominant, social and cultural order,while others have found a collection of rival political groups and styles which will not give one another support. My thesis will attempt to uphold the second assertion, i.e. that there exist irreconcilable rifts within what is commonly called "the student movement”. Two radical political groups who held meetings at a large western Canadian university in 1968 will be examined with the aid of transcript data taken from tape-recordings. Evidence of tension and conflict between the differing political orientations adhered to by these two groups will then be presented. Kenneth Keniston's description of "political activist" and "culturally alienated" poles within the student movement provides a loose set of categories in terms of which the two groups may be viewed. The group calling itself SDS is seen to resemble Keniston's "political activists" who follow more traditional means of organizing political protest. Members of SDU, the group which preceded SDS chronologically, fit into Keniston's category of "culturally alienated" by being involved in a search for intensified subjective experience. They depart from his description, however, by emphasizing intersubjective encounter in a public group setting rather than remaining alienated social isolates. While SDS, with its goal of confrontation politics, resembles many other New Left groups described by writers on the Movement, SDU, with its goal of achieving a sense of community, remains unique. It is because of SDU's unique character that the problem of recruiting new members is explored in the final portion of the thesis. Newcomers to SDU had a difficult time understanding what was taking place as the meeting situation departed so greatly from their expectations of what a radical political meeting should look like. Problems with newcomers and the appearance of SDS as a rival political group led to the abandonment of SDU as an unusual attempt to create a communal experience of interpersonal encounter on campus instead of the more usual tactics of confrontation politics.

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