1968: On Social, Epistemic, and Historiographic(?) Revolutions

  • Roberto D. Hernández


This article addresses the meaning and significance of the “world revolution of 1968,” as well as the historiography of 1968. I critically interrogate how the production of a narrative about 1968 and the creation of ethnic studies, despite its world-historic significance, has tended to perpetuate a limiting, essentialized and static notion of “the student” as the primary actor and an inherent agent of change. Although students did play an enormous role in the events leading up to, through, and after 1968 in various parts of the world—and I in no way wish to diminish this fact—this article nonetheless argues that the now hegemonic narrative of a student-led revolt has also had a number of negative consequences, two of which will be the focus here. One problem is that the generation-driven models that situate 1968 as a revolt of the young students versus a presumably older generation, embodied by both their parents and the dominant institutions of the time, are in effect a sociosymbolic reproduction of modernity/coloniality’s logic or driving impulse and obsession with newness. Hence an a priori valuation is assigned to the new, embodied in this case by the student, at the expense of the presumably outmoded old. Secondly, this apparent essentializing of “the student” has entrapped ethnic studies scholars, and many of the period’s activists (some of whom had been students themselves), into said logic, thereby risking the foreclosure of a politics beyond (re)enchantment or even obsession with newness yet again.