The Elephant in the Room: Youth, Cognition, and Student Groups in Mass Social Movements
Received: 15 May 2019 / Revised: 27 July 2019 / Accepted: 6 August 2019 / Published: 9 August 2019
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Student and youth groups are often vanguard actors in turbulent times. This article proposes that when they are part of broader social movements, they can introduce strong age-cohort influences in a movement’s development. These influences derive from the balance between youths and adults
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Student and youth groups are often vanguard actors in turbulent times. This article proposes that when they are part of broader social movements, they can introduce strong age-cohort influences in a movement’s development. These influences derive from the balance between youths and adults in a movement and their interrelationships, especially over the long term when demands remain unanswered by the state. Other influences include resource availability, which tends to cluster with older generations, tactical specialization according to age cohorts, and the tendency of groups with younger members to be willing to take greater risks, be more passionate in their demands, and more militant in their tactics. In this report, we identified several empirically recognized cognitive dimensions relevant to youthful participation: (1) identity search, (2) risk taking, (3) emotionality, and (4) cognitive triggering. These cognitive factors of late adolescence and early adulthood can energize a movement when young cohorts participate but also run the risk of alienating older members and public opinion. We discussed how mass movements for political and/or cultural change are frequently intergenerational and how intergenerational relations can mitigate the inward-turning and militant tendencies of young adults. In broad movements for social change, these relations can create a division of labor in which students are the vanguard actors and the older members mobilize the social and material resources available to them. Under other conditions, youth and student groups wield a two-edged sword with the capability of energizing a movement or alienating older cohorts of militants and public opinion.