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Michels, R. (1971). Student Dissent. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 19:417-432.

(1971). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 19:417-432

Student Dissent

Robert Michels, M.D.


The psychoanalytic study of student dissent adds to the understanding we have gained from sociologic, political, and educational inquiries. Many apparently rebellious college youths are acting on deeply felt moral convictions which were learned from their parents. Their behavior is sanctioned by their superegos and syntonic with their ego ideals, reflecting obedience far more than defiance. The interesting question is why this pattern was not more common in the past, and what shifts in our social structure and patterns of child rearing have led to a younger generation whose overt action is far more consistent with its thoughts and feelings than has been true in prior decades.

Both student and adult behavior serve to express unconscious conflicts. Facile explanations which see student rebellions as reflecting failure to resolve oedipal complexes, without discussing adult response in similar terms, are biased and unscientific. The distress and anxiety which student protests have elicited from the adult world can also be explored from a psychoanalytic point of view.

Current student protests reflect a youthful insistence that one's social behavior be consistent with moral standards and intellectual concerns. They represent a new, emergent phenomenon, one which may be related to shifting patterns of neurotic illness which have been observed in recent decades. This new mode of youthful behavior may represent a necessary societal adaptation to a world of rapid change.

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