How Students Radicalize? Marxist Commitment and Group Affiliation at the Universidad Nacional De Colombia in the 1970s

Nicolas Rudas Neyra, Yale University

Political radicalism among non-disadvantaged populations, such as university students, has not been adequately theorized by sociologists. Current explanations fail because they tend to accentuate material and structural variables and to downplay the role of culture. By focusing on Marxist radicalized students at a Colombian university during the early seventies, this article advances a new cultural-sociological approach to the phenomenon. It draws on two traditions customarily seen as rivals: Jeffrey Alexander’s Strong Program and Gary Alan Fine’s symbolic interactionism. I conducted a hermeneutical reconstruction of the university’s local meanings by reading rebel students’ publications and conducting interviews with militants from the period. With this material at hand, I claim that student radicalism was the result of a vibrant revolutionary culture erected on campus. Such culture was structured around a ‘revolutionary code’, i.e., a system of binary classifications that provided activists with moral and emotional coordinates for meaning-making. The ‘revolutionary code’ first spread across Colombian public universities through books and magazines, as part of the global flows of Marxism, and then it was solidified through sustained interaction in small group settings.

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 Presented in Session 125. Cultures of Calculation and Resistance