PSD Nonviolent Resistance Special Issue

Michael Loadenthal's picture

There is much in our contemporary political reality that calls for resistance, as myriad forms of insecurity and injustice have only become more pronounced with the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency—an election that of course affects not only the U.S. but the whole world.


Nonviolent resistance, in particular, is central to the Peace Science Digest’s focus on war and violence prevention: first, most directly, nonviolent resistance is capable of resisting military policies and practices by mobilizing mass demonstrations against war and military spending or by moving soldiers to refuse participation in violence; second, it is also capable of resisting multiple forms of so-called “structural violence,” injustice related to unequal life chances for people from marginalized communities; and, third, it does all this without itself adopting violence, providing an effective alternative to armed resistance strategies, which end up simply fueling cycles of violence and creating justifications for further repression. Although many of us share this impulse to nonviolently resist—almost as a knee-jerk response to some of the terrifying statements and policies emanating from the White House—it is critical to take the next step and think about this resistance strategically for it to actually put pressure on relevant actors and bring about desired changes that protect people and the planet.


This Special Issue of the Peace Science Digest was put together with this concern in mind. We culled through recent scholarship on nonviolent resistance (also called civil resistance or nonviolent struggle) to find research that would be most useful for thinking through strategic questions, research with the clearest implications for organizing. A few themes emerge across the studies highlighted:

  • The importance of developing mass, broad-based movements (underscored already by Chenoweth & Stephan in their seminal 2011 book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict).

  • The question of identity, power, and privilege in the context of diverse, broad-based movements: how to recognize one’s position in power structures that privilege some and oppress others, and then how to work effectively and respectfully across lines of difference and power disparity.

  • The need to understand particular injustices within their appropriate historical frames, as part of a continuum of oppression that demands sustained resistance rather than as one isolated event.

  • The complicated nature of the relationship between nonviolent activists and police/security forces: while these may be agents of state repression, they also represent a key pillar of the state that, if pulled out from under it, could prove decisive in shifting the balance of power towards the resistance movement. Rather than maintain an adversarial stance vis-à-vis police/security forces, activists can—through nonviolent discipline and proactive relationship-building—encourage defections and bring repressive police/security forces to the side of the resistance movement.


From Standing Rock to Sweden, from Ferguson to the West Bank, join us in exploring how to employ humor in nonviolent movements, recognize diversity and privilege in transnational anti-occupation activism, sustain a broad-based struggle against racism and police violence, leverage Indigenous treaty rights to struggle against environmental exploitation, and withstand “smart” repression.