Nonviolent Struggle: Theories, Strategies, and Dynamics

Nonviolent Struggle: Theories, Strategies, and Dynamics

Nonviolent Struggle: Theories, Strategies, and Dynamics

Nonviolent Struggle: Theories, Strategies, and Dynamics

Synopsis

From Gandhi's movement to win Indian independence to the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, an expanding number of citizens have used nonviolent action to win political goals. While such events have captured the public imagination, they have also generated a new surge of scholarly interest in the field of nonviolence and civil resistance studies. Although researchers have produced new empirical data, theories, and insights into the phenomenon of nonviolent struggle, the field is still quite unfamiliar to many students and scholars.

In Nonviolent Struggle: Theories, Strategies, and Dynamics, sociologist Sharon Nepstad provides a succinct introduction to the field of civil resistance studies, detailing its genesis, key concepts and debates, and a summary of empirical findings. Nepstad depicts the strategies and dynamics at play in nonviolent struggles, and analyzes the factors that shape the trajectory and outcome of civil resistance movements. The book draws on a vast array of historical examples, including the U.S. civil rights movement, the Indonesian uprising against President Suharto, the French Huguenot resistance during World War II, and Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers. Nepstad describes both principled and pragmatic nonviolent traditions and explains various categories of nonviolent action, concluding with an assessment of areas for future research.

A comprehensive treatment of the philosophy and strategy of nonviolent resistance, Nonviolent Struggle is essential reading for students, scholars, and anyone with a general interest in peace studies and social change.

Excerpt

Nonviolent resistance has been around for a long time. Scriptures depict cases of civil disobedience thousands of years ago, when the Egyptian king ordered Jewish midwives to kill all Hebrew male infants since he feared that one might grow up to challenge his power. Instead of complying, the midwives delivered the children but told Pharaoh that Hebrew women were so strong that they gave birth before they arrived. in the creation of the Roman Republic, the plebs (the free Roman citizens who were not part of the elite ruling class) also used civil resistance. From 495 to 402 BCE, they refused to enlist in the military or pay war levies. They repeatedly engaged in general strikes, physically withdrawing from the city, leaving the elites to run things on their own. These actions eventually enabled the plebs to win greater political leverage and liberties.

Nonviolent action has been used in contemporary times as well, in ways both big and small. There have been large-scale nonviolent movements, such as the U.S. civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the antiapartheid movement in South Africa that organized boycotts and divestment campaigns, culminating in the election of President Nelson Mandela. Others have used nonviolence in smaller-scale acts of everyday resistance, such as when Prague residents changed the street signs overnight to confuse Soviet troops and obstruct their ability to consolidate control over Czechoslovakia in 1968. Currently, members of Greenpeace use inflatable boats to nonviolently obstruct commercial whaling practices.

As these examples illustrate, the methods of civil resistance are diverse and wide-ranging. Nonviolence scholar Gene Sharp documented 198 distinct tactics, including mass demonstrations, tax resistance, general strikes, work slowdowns, civil disobedience, noncooperation, boycotts, building alternative institutions, sit-ins, and nonviolent intervention, to name just a few. When these tactics are incorporated into a systematic strategy, they can be powerful, bringing about significant social, cultural, and political change.

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