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  • Sapience

University Collectives and the Detachment Discourse away from the Parliamentary Politics

This article is focused on the practices and discourses of university collectives made up of university students who develop their actions mainly in these places. In order to better comprehend this type of political organization, this work initially aims to exhibit data on the collectives composed of young university students and their opinions concerning politics and parliamentary institutions.

Despite being a widely mentioned, few are the studies dealing specifically with collectives. The existing works point out some of their characteristics, e.g., informality, multiple and opportune agendas, horizontality, fluidity and presence in digital media (BORELLI; ABOBOREIRA, 2011; MAIA, 2013; GOHN, 2017). According to Maia (2013), what distinguishes the collective from the other movements is the fact that it does not have a permanent agenda; it may add multiple demands and priority issues are defined through recurrent debates.

As collectives have been little systematized in the literature, at first the choice was to carry out an exploratory investigation through semi-structured interviews with members of all collectives from the city of Teresina, capital of the state of Piauí, in the Northeast of Brazil. For the selection of research objects, the starting point was the self-definition of organizations as collectives. We located them through snowball sampling: the interviewees were requested to indicate other collectives, until the indications did not reveal any new names. Sixteen university collectives were identified, which worked within two public universities. The interviews were authorized by the University Ethics Board.

Aiming to broaden the understanding of the phenomenon, all collectives possessing pages on the most widely-used digital social networking website at present in Brazil, Facebook, were investigated. In order to find the pages, the words ‘collectives’ and ‘collective’ were typed into the search bar, in June 2017.

The database had 725 pages of collectives. From all these, 23% (170) were categorized as university collectives, as they worked within a university, hence their choice for being analysis objects of this article. The following information was analyzed, retrieved from the pages of all university collectives registered on Facebook: establishment year, composition, objective, major theme, contents of most recent posts (observed from the last five ones), statement that there is horizontality, autonomy, nonpartisanship, absence of bureaucracy/formalization, opinion on parliamentary politics, whether the collective criticizes and, if so, who. The database was created in June 2017 by a trained team for that task.

The research results show that university collectives are composed of Higher Education students who act within the university. They discuss and propose actions that deconstruct prejudices, encouraging thus the inclusion of groups facing more difficulties in accessing their rights, e.g., women and black people, as well as Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders and Queers (or LGBTQ). Such discussions occur at their own universities/colleges and on digital social network websites, such as Facebook.

As for the creation of university collectives, the interviews with sixteen collectives from the city of Teresina, state of Piauí, revealed a discontentment of young adults concerning the absence of discussions on prejudice and rights for women, black and LGBTQ people at universities, hence the need for promoting debates and inclusion actions. The realization that the problem is the inaction regarding prejudice, rights and inclusion-related issues also appear on their virtual pages. As per one of the pages searched, “the kickoff of the collective was the voice” to debate and fight against these situations deemed unjust.

The literature on collectives, understood as newest social movements, regard them as new ways of political organization commenced at large mass meetings, e.g. Occupy Wall Street, in New York, or at those spreading throughout Brazil in June 2013. Collectives would be new due to their contemporaneous character and some features marking them as different from old social movements or from more structured organizations, such as nongovernmental social movements and organizations. The latter would be formal, bureaucratic, hierarchical and impregnated with political party positions.

By interpreting the irruption phenomena of the mid-2013 in Brazil and in the world with these criteria, there is a problem, however, in presupposing that the discourse or even some empirical characteristics of some organizations are valid for all universe of collectives. The idea of autonomous and nonpartisan movements derives mainly from the analysis of Passe Livre (movement that led to the cycle of protests in June 2013, in Brazil) and collectives with an anarchist discourse. But protesters who took part in June Journeys were not only anarchist political organizations: the diversity of actors is one of the characteristics of June 2013. Therefore, assigning nonpartisanship or autonomy to all protesters is not possible based upon part of their discourse.

The novelty discourse and distancing concerning politics are related to the low trust in parliamentary institutions among young students and the general population. This low trust was expressed and fed by the cycle of protests begun in June 2013, in Brazil. The distance between collectives and traditional political organizations would comply with society’s expectations regarding societal organization. In a context of distrust concerning political parties and parliamentary institutions, collectives rise as more genuine ways of organization.

The distancing of young students from parliamentary politics, including parties and parliamentary institutions, could entail the strengthening of democratic institutions. Parliamentary institutions could be improved by the struggle of social movements, especially of young university students. However, when activists stand away from these institutions, they contribute to lowering the chances of an actual change. Inversely, distrust in parties and the Congress may increase the possibility of weakening the relationship between population and these two central institutions for democracy.


Olívia Cristina Perez is a PhD in Political Science from the State University of São Paulo (USP). She is an Adjunct Professor at the Federal University of Piauí (UFPI), tenured at the undergraduate and postgraduate programs in Political Science and the postgraduate program (Master and PhD) in Public Policies. E-mail:

Bruno Mello Souza has accomplished his Postdoctoral studies in Political Science from the Federal University of Piauí (UFPI). He is PhD and MSc in Political Science from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). He is a professor at the State University of Piauí (UESPI). E-mail:



BORELLI, Silvia Helena Simões; ABOBOREIRA, Ariane. Teorias/metodologias: trajetos de investigação com coletivos juvenis em São Paulo/Brasil. Revista Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Manizales, v. 9, n. 1, p. 161-172, 2011.

GOHN, Maria da Glória. Manifestações e protestos no Brasil. São Paulo: Cortez, 2017.

MAIA, Gretha Leite. A juventude e os coletivos: como se articulam novas formas de expressão política. Revista Eletrônica do Curso de Direito da UFSM, Santa Maria, v. 8, n. 1, p. 58-73, 2013.

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