Individualization versus Democratization? Conditions and forms of student activism in authoritarian situation (Cameroon, 1962-2014)

Monday, 16 April, 2018 - 15:00

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In democratic situations, "activism" and "mobilization" tend to be almost synonymous with "challenging". The analysis of student militancy in authoritarian situation in Cameroon calls that into question. Building on the contrast between protesters / conservative mobilizations and on a socio-historical approach of student militancy for fifty years period, we distinguish two types of student associations in authoritarian situation: those "autonomous" are initiated by students while "institutional" associations are initiated by university authorities. In the few independent student organizations, "autonomous" activism promotes the negotiation with the authorities despite the variety of control devices. This type of activism tends to question authorities who react by labeling "protestor" or "subversive" autonomous organizations and activists. Among the most common institutional student associations, the "institutional" activism maintains cooperation with the authorities who can later promote their social, economic and / or political mobility. This ensures political and social reproduction of power. Contrary to the common belief that the process of individualization - weakening of “traditional” modus operandi of community as a collective identity - would promote democratization, Cameroon's authoritarian regime find resources of its sustainability in opportunistic militant practices related to process of individualization which are more selfish than moral. The analysis of forty-seven life stories of student leaders allows us to distinguish three types of militant career by the degree of loyalty to one or the other type of student association: the “faithful leader”, the “(re)converted leader” and the “syncretic leader”. The autonomous faithful leaders and syncretic leaders are more resistant to control devices. Thus, they extend the political field of possibilities, both in terms of representations and practices.

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