Why do some groups choose nonviolence?

The Journal of Peace Research has a great new special issue on the topic of  "Understanding Nonviolent Resistance" which is, for the moment, ungated online. Several of the papers in the issue take advantage of the new Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes (NAVCO) project created by Korbel Professor Erica Chenoweth and Orion Lewis of ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/AFP/Getty Images
JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/AFP/Getty Images
JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/AFP/Getty Images

The Journal of Peace Research has a great new special issue on the topic of  "Understanding Nonviolent Resistance" which is, for the moment, ungated online. Several of the papers in the issue take advantage of the new Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes (NAVCO) project created by Korbel Professor Erica Chenoweth and Orion Lewis of Middlebury College -- a coded database of violent and non-violent resistance movements around the world between 1900 and 2006. (Also see Chenoweth's Think Again: Nonviolent Resistance from FP in 2011.)

One paper by Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham of the University of Maryland -- co-editor of the issue with Chenoweth -- uses the NAVCO data to test a number of hypotheses about why some groups seeking self-determiniation choose violence, non-violent resistance, or traditional political methods to advance their goals. 

Examining 146 groups making claims for self-determination in 77 different states since 1960 Cunningham finds that:

The Journal of Peace Research has a great new special issue on the topic of  "Understanding Nonviolent Resistance" which is, for the moment, ungated online. Several of the papers in the issue take advantage of the new Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes (NAVCO) project created by Korbel Professor Erica Chenoweth and Orion Lewis of Middlebury College — a coded database of violent and non-violent resistance movements around the world between 1900 and 2006. (Also see Chenoweth’s Think Again: Nonviolent Resistance from FP in 2011.)

One paper by Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham of the University of Maryland — co-editor of the issue with Chenoweth — uses the NAVCO data to test a number of hypotheses about why some groups seeking self-determiniation choose violence, non-violent resistance, or traditional political methods to advance their goals. 

Examining 146 groups making claims for self-determination in 77 different states since 1960 Cunningham finds that:

…civil war is more likely, as compared to conventional politics, when self-determination groups are larger, have kin in adjoining states, are excluded from political power, face economic discrimination, are internally fragmented, demand independence, and operate in states at lower levels of economic development. I find that nonviolent campaign is more likely, as compared to conventional politics, when groups are smaller, are less geographically concentrated, are excluded from political power, face economic discrimination, make independence demands, and operate in non-democracies.

The finding on group size ran counter to Gallagher’s expectations. The hypothesis was that large groups seeking self-determination would be more likely touse nonviolent campaigns given their strength in numbers.

Another paper examine the correction between a political organization’s attitudes toward, and inclusion of women on the form of resistance it chooses. Another finds data to support the claim that nonviolent protests — as opposed to violent action — substantially increase the likelihood of transition to democracy. 

There’s a lot more to read and it’s great to see nonviolent movements getting the type of attention and data-driven analysis usually devoted to armed conflict. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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