Nonviolent Resistance a global History 1830-2000

Week 1. Preliminary meeting

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Week 1. Preliminary meeting

15-minute preliminary meeting in at 9.15am on Wednesday 3 October 2012 in room H 303.

Week 2. Defining nonviolent resistance and its implications

In this introductory session, we shall begin by establishing the subject and scope of this module. What do we mean by ‘nonviolence’, and a ‘nonviolent resistance’? What other sorts of terms may be used to describe such movements? What are the implications of each? After a discussion of all these issues, we shall in the second part of the seminar look at the film How to Start a Revolution (2011). This is about the work and influence of the foremost contemporary theorist of nonviolent resistance, Gene Sharp.

Core reading:

Thomas Weber and Robert J. Burrows, Nonviolence: An Introduction. Full text on

Questions for discussion:


  1. What is meant by ‘violence’ and ‘nonviolence’? Look up these terms in dictionaries.

  2. What qualifies as a nonviolent movement?

  3. How do we define such action? Numerous phrases have been used, such as: passive resistance, civil resistance, Satyagraha, nonviolent resistance, nonviolent coercion, unarmed insurrection, direct action, nonviolent action, radical pacifism, people power movements, and so on. What are the implications of each of these terms?

Questions for discussion:

  1. What are the main objections raised to nonviolent form of resistance?

  2. What are the main advantages? How do its proponents claim that it works?

  3. How do Weber and Burrowes seek to classify different forms of nonviolent resistance?

  4. What are the main forms that such resistance takes? Provide a list.

  5. Is sabotage a valid form of nonviolent resistance?

  6. Should all such protestors be open and transparent in their activities? Should they resist or evade arrest?

  7. Is nonviolent resistance a moral or practical stance?

Further reading:

  • Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, Palgrave, New York 2000, introdution.

  • Kurt Schock, Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Nondemocracies, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 2005, chapter 1.

  • Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press, New York 2011), chapter 1.

  • Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Porter Sargent Publisher, Boston 1973.

  • Gene Sharp, From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation, The Albert Einstein Institute, Boston 2003.

Week 3. Violence and nonviolence – a discussion of theories.

In this seminar, we shall examine the writings of some of the major theorists and, in the case of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, practitioners of nonviolent resistance.

Core reading and tasks:
Manfred B. Steger and Nancy S. Lind (eds.), Violence and its alternatives: an interdisciplinary reader, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999, the following chapters (photocopies will have been handed out in week 2).

  • Chapter 1. Hannah Arendt, ‘On Violence’.

  • Chapter 30. Gandhi on nonviolence.

  • Chapter 31. Martin Luther King on ‘Love, Law and Civil Disobedience.’

  • Chapter 34. Gene Sharp on ‘Beyond Just War and Pacifism: Nonviolent Struggle towards Justice, Freedom and Peace.’ (Note: after p.324 this piece focuses on ‘Christian and non-pacifist voices’ and is not s relevant to the discussion this week.)

In the first part of the seminar, you will be divided up into four groups, each of which will discuss one of these chapters, applying to it the following questions:

  1. How does the piece understand nonviolence? For example, how is it defined? Is it seen as moral, ethical, passive, practical, loving, courageous, and so on?

  2. In what ways is nonviolence held to be superior to violence?

  3. What understanding of the history of nonviolence is there?

  4. Are any limits to nonviolence acknowledged in the piece?

  5. Does the piece provide guidelines on how nonviolence should be practised?

  6. Does the author of the piece argue for any practical long-term advantages for a society in using nonviolence?

The seminar will be conducted according to the following plan.

  1. Divide into 4 groups. Each will focus on just one of the above readings (Arendt, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Gene Sharp). Begin by discussing the particular chapter in the small group. Do this for about 15 minutes.

  2. Come together in a big group again, and focus on one chapter at a time, e.g. Arendt, then Gandhi, then Martin Luther King, then Gene Sharp. The members of the each group present their findings (each member should make some contribution, e.g. by answering at least one of these questions). Then, open the discussion up to the wider group. Repeat this process for each of the four chapters.

  3. Finally, open the discussion up to a comparison between the four readings.

We shall conclude with a short presentation by David Hardiman on the long-term history of nonviolence.

Further reading:

  • Hannah Arendt, On Violence

  • Hannah Arendt, ‘Reflections on Violence’, New York Review of Books, Vol. 12, No. 4, 27 February 1969 –

  • Joan Bondurant, Conquest of Violence

  • William Borman, Gandhi’s Non-Violence.

  • Robert Burrowes, The Strategy of Nonviolent Defiance: A Gandhian Approach (Albany, 1996).

  • David Cortright, Gandhi and Beyond: Nonviolence for an Age of Terrorism, Ch. 1

  • Dennis Dalton, Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action

  • Pat Duffy Hutcheon, ‘Hannah Arendt on the Concept of Power’, available on the web on:

  • Peter Gelderloos, How Nonviolence Protects the State (Cambridge 2007). A critical appraisal of nonviolent resistance. For link to the text see module website, week 3.

  • Mary King, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.: the Power of Nonviolent Action

  • Brian Martin, ‘Gene Sharp’s Theory of Power’, Journal of Peace Research, 26, 1989.

  • Thomas Merton, The Nonviolent Alternative (London 1988).

  • Greg Moses, Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Philosophy of Nonviolence

  • Michael N. Nagler, The Search for a Nonviolent Future, Ch.2. for defining nonviolence, and Ch. 4 on whether it ‘works’.

  • Michael J. Nojeim, Gandhi and King: The Power of Nonviolent Resistance

  • Bhikhu Parekh, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy

  • Krishnalal Shridharni, War without Violence

  • Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action

  • Gene Sharp, From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual framework for Liberation (available electronically through library link)

  • Gene Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential

  • Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, ‘Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict’, International Security, 33, 2008.

  • J.M. Washington (ed.), A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King Jr.

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