A CRITICAL ETHNOGRAPHY OF UNIVERSITY STUDENT ACTIVISM IN POSTCOUP HONDURAS: KNOWLEDGES, SOCIAL PRACTICES OF RESISTANCE, AND THE DEMOCRATIZATION/DECOLONIZATION OF THE UNIVERSITY
The purpose of this critical ethnographic dissertation research was to explore the multiple and diverse ways in which university student activists in Honduras constructed oppositional political cultures within the institutional constraints and possibilities of the university and the broader neoliberal and authoritarian postcoup context. In this research, I considered studying up and down and anything in between a necessary task to understand the complexity of student activism in relation to the university’s complicity with the coloniality of power and knowledge (Nader, 1972; Quijano, 2000, 2007). Critical ethnography, decolonial, space and place, and collective action theory provided the philosophical, methodological, conceptual, practical, political, and ethical commitments to understand how the University Student Movement’s political culture resisted neoliberal higher education reform. This research, in addition, offers an ethnographic analysis and interpretation of the student movement’s political culture and the role it played in democratizing the university. First, I used a historical perspective to contextualize reemerging student movements in Honduras. After tracing Latin American student movement’s origin to the Cordoba Student Movement of Argentina, I examined the ways in which the student movement of Honduras adopted, reclaimed, and extended the democratic principles implemented in the former. University autonomy, ideological pluralism, democratic governance, academic freedom, and curriculum reform were salient points of analyses. Second, I examined the student movement’s horizontal organization, identified the democratic social practices and political culture that emerged after the coup of 2009, and interpreted student activists’ knowledges born in struggle through a decolonial lens concomitant with a sensitivity to space and place and collective action. Particularly, the direct participation of students in all decision-making processes within the student movement was interpreted as an act of resistance to reclaim democratic spaces within a sociopolitical context increasingly becoming dictatorial. Third, I analyzed the student movement’s impact in democratizing the university’s governance structure and resisting neoliberal higher education reform. Fourth, I shared the knowledge produced collectively by student activists. The way students conceived of the university and its curriculum and governing practices unsettled the authorial individualism still present in educational research. The knowledges born in struggle, I argued, have sociopolitical, cultural, and decolonial implications. In addition to the analytical and interpretive work which included the research, knowledges, and practices student activists shared with me during the 12 months of fieldwork and participant observation in Honduras, I highlighted how the emergence of a heterogeneously articulated student movement slowed down, at the very least, the neocolonial and neoliberal reconfiguration of the university. This dissertation thus addressed the political relationship between the global and the local. The re-localization of politics here must not to be confused with reactionary politics. It means instead to recognize how the particular is enmeshed in a more complex web of power, domination, resistance, and reexistence. To resist locally means that collective actors engage global powers, even if indirectly and unintentionally. Student activists, who were able to put a stop to the series of neoliberal reforms implemented since the coup of 2009, reminded those in power (local, national, and global) that neoliberal higher education reform within a re-politicized autonomous university with an organized student movement will be faced with resistance. This ethnographic account will hopefully reveal the ways in which student activist built a politically culture characterized by alternative forms of organizing to resist what is too often conceived fatalistically as the inevitable neoliberalization of education. These fatalistic perspectives will hopefully be unsettled throughout the dissertation. The significance of this study is that it is oriented toward an ethnographic understanding of higher education reform and student resistance in Latin America, a region with a student population which continues to be engaged in collective action. The educational significance of this work revolves around the need to rethink and rebuild universities in radically democratic terms. This rethinking involves the need to not only democratize access to higher education but rather to democratize governance, curriculum, knowledge, research, and ways of knowing and being. Transforming the university into a democratic place in which students are directly and meaningfully involved in governance and curriculum reform opens a path toward decolonial futurities where knowledge is no longer dictated from above but rather deconstructed and reconstructed from below. This dissertation research, lastly, as it works at the intersections of curriculum studies, decolonial theories, methodologies, pedagogies, and emerging university student resistance in Latin America, offers, I hope, a valuable way to do curriculum inquiry in higher education institutions within international contexts.