The Active Few: Student Ideology and
Participation in Developing Countries
GLAUCIO A. D. SOARES
The emphasis in the press on student street demonstrations, riots, and the like may have given a distorted picture of student political opinion in developing countries. These demonstrations constitute a relatively small part of student political life, and only a small percentage of the total student body actually participates in them.
The main purpose of this chapter is to specify the ideological characteristics of student political activists and to differentiate them from the whole student body, that is, discerning how activists differ from the larger mass of apathetic students.
Political participation is a broad concept which has been used rather loosely by sociologists and political scientists alike. But political participation is not a monolithic concept, as it embodies different forms, levels, and degrees of intensity. 1 Thus, reading about politics, voting, and stoning embassies are different forms of participation. By the same token, reliance on survey data tends to obliterate these differences by simply treating them as varying forms of political participation. However, not only are they different actions, but they also involve different degrees of intensity. This intensity differential is not without consequences. Many more are likely to read about politics than to go and participate in a street demonstration. Conceiving various forms of political participation as having different degrees of intensity is in itself a good justification for analyzing those forms separately. 2 However, there are other reasons that justify this separation, the most important of which is that there is no inherent reason to assume that participants in a more intense form of politics are simply a random sample of the larger group of participants in a less intense form. 3