Opportunity and Threat Cues in Education Reform Protests of Chile and Mexico (1990-2013)

Open Access
Milliken, Katherine Irene
Area of Honors:
International Politics
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Mark Sebastian Anner, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael Barth Berkman, Honors Advisor
  • Chile
  • Mexico
  • social movements
  • political opportunity
  • threat
  • student protest
This study will attempt to bring together social movement theory and education reform, bridged by students as political actors evaluating the cues presented by their political context, in an attempt to answer the question: why does student protest activity related to education reform occur when it does? I propose that student movements for education reform mobilize in response to events that are perceived as political opportunities or threats (two sides of the same coin). Student protests are a distinct feature of Latin American domestic politics, and education reform issues reflect and affect not only central domestic concerns, but also these students’ experience and development as political actors. By focusing on protest activity surrounding education reform, we can examine these behaviors and, to some extent, their effect on the political system. This study will rely heavily on political opportunity theory, and attempt to correct for some of the main criticisms of the field through method. Opportunity and threat event cues will be defined and tested in the context of two Latin American democracies of similar legal arrangement, economic standing, and history of student activism, with the goals of determining whether such cues consistently prompt student protest activity related to education reform, whether both opportunity and threat cues prompt protest activity, and whether specific event cues are answered more consistently than others. Results suggest that both threat and opportunity cues are answered, but that the cues cannot account for all protest activity, even within the few protest cycles selected for study; case studies also refute the proposal that any specific event cue is answered consistently across protest cycles cases and country cases. Variation between results by country and possible explanations will also be discussed, especially in regard to differentiation by threat and opportunity.