Struggling to Learn, Learning to Struggle

Strategy and Structure in the 2010-11 University of Puerto Rico Student Strike

My Ph.D. dissertation is now available on CUNY Academic Works.

Abstract
From April 2010 to March 2011, the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) underwent a two-phase strike sequence against neoliberal austerity measures. Altogether, that process resulted in the eventual concession of all of the students’ main demands, an unprecedented feat at the UPR, and a rare one in Puerto Rican history in general. In this dissertation I seek to cast light on this improbable event by examining, first, how neoliberalization patterned and contoured the choices facing the century-old UPR student movement. Second, I explore how interactions within the movement, including the framing contest among leadership teams and their interaction with the movement grassroots, affected the way in which those decisions were made. Focusing on a political cadre organization, the Union of Socialist Youths (UJS), which has been involved in the UPR since the mid-1970s, I conducted targeted, semi-structured interviews with members of the UJS, several of whom were first-generation working-class students first drawn to the movement by the on campus “movement building” activities of political cadre. Complementing my own critical participant observation with these interviews, as well as archival and documentary research, I built a reflexive, extended case study based on a reiterated problem-solving or learning process model. In summary, without arguing causation, I show that: 1) reforms implemented by administrators named by both governing parties since 1981 constitute a more or less coherent repertoire consistent with neoliberalization; 2) debates within the UPR student movement around critical switchpoints before and during the 2010-11 strike revolved around an apparent tradeoff between militant “pressure” and mass appeal, aspects of which are made salient by neoliberalizing repertoires (a recurring combination of strategic dilemmas that I call the “neoliberal dilemma”); 3) the UJS and other cadre organizations intervened in these debates in ways that strengthened the strategic capacity of the movement as a whole; and 4) the 2010-11 UPR strike is in turn part of a longer problem-solving sequence extending back to at least 1981, which in turn is part of the longer trajectory of the nested UPR student movement field, and the broader trajectory of resistance to colonial capitalism in Puerto Rico.

Keywords
cadre organizations, framing contest, leadership teams, learning, neoliberalization, reiterated problem-solving, strategic capacity, student movements, tactical repertoires, University of Puerto Rico

Download the full dissertation.

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