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Keynote: Student activism as productive 'nagging'? Equality, free speech and alternative spaces for learning

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Student activism as productive ‘nagging’? Equality, free speech and alternative spaces for learning.
Gritt B. Nielsen

"We must design our lives and our institutions so that the justice that is compromised remains nagging, in the margin somewhere, in a bracket that does not go away, to pique our souls and goad us into future action" (Mansbridge 1996, p. 59).

In recent years, there has been a marked upsurge in student mobilization to promote social justice and equality at universities in countries like the USA, the UK and Denmark. Students criticize their universities for reproducing norms and practices that systematically marginalise or discriminate against certain bodies and voices in academia. In contrast to the public and sometimes confrontational activism used by students in the USA and the UK, students in Denmark tend to engage in more dialogue-oriented forms of everyday activism that are not explicitly connected to (but still resonate with) larger social movements. In this paper, I use the case of student activism in Denmark as a window onto contemporary negotiations and core frictions around what it means, and should mean, to be a student. Taking the point of departure in different ‘informal’ or ‘open’ letters sent by students in Denmark, I explore the emerging tensions between creating more inclusive and equal spaces for learning, and upholding ideals of academic freedom or free speech. In particular, I show how international debates around identity politics and free speech as well as institutional practices around reputation management and student participation unfortunately often work to discourage important dialogue and exploration of alternative spaces for learning. With inspiration from Mansbridge (1996), I argue that a central task for both students and their institutions is the cultivation of exploratory and critical spaces that can productively ‘nag’ established practices and norms and goad us into future action.
StatusUdgivet - 2021
BegivenhedWhat does it mean to be a contemporary higher education student?: Free online conference, University of Surrey - University of Surrey, Surrey, Storbritannien
Varighed: 17 jun. 202118 jun. 2021


KonferenceWhat does it mean to be a contemporary higher education student?
LokationUniversity of Surrey


  • Higher Education, Student Politics, Social movements, Social Justice, academic freedom

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