Gene Sharp, Civil Resistance and Technology

Major civil nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to lead to sustainable democratic transitions than violent campaigns. This conclusion comes from a large-N statistical study carried out by my colleague Maria Stephan (PhD Fletcher ’06) and Erica Chenoweth. Recently published in International Security, the study notes that civil resistance movements have achieved success 55% of the time while only 28% of violent campaigns have succeeded.

Another colleague, Chris Walker (MALD Fletcher ’07), wrote in his excellent Master’s Thesis that “techniques associated with strategic nonviolent social movements are greatly enhanced by access to modern information communication technologies, such as mobile telephony, short message service (SMS), email and the World Wide Web, among others.”

It stands to reason, then, that increasing access to modern communication technologies may in turn up the 55% success rate of nonviolent campaigns by several percentage points. To this end, the question that particularly interests me (given my dissertation research) is the following: What specific techniques associated with civil resistance can tactical uses of modern communication technologies amplify?

This is the question I recently posed to Dr. Peter Ackerman—another Fletcher Alum (PhD ’76) and the founding Chair of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC)—when I described my dissertation interests. When Peter suggested I look into Gene Sharp’s work on methods of nonviolent action, I replied “that’s exactly what I intend to do.”

In The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Gene identifies 198 methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion. The majority of these can be amplified by modern communication technologies. What  follows is therefore only a subset of 12 tactics linked to applied examples of modern technologies. I very much welcome feedback on this initial list, as I’d like to formulate a more complete taxonomy of digital resistance and match the tactic-technologies with real-world examples from DigiActive’s website.

  • Quickie walkout (lightning strike): Flashmob
  • Hiding, escape, and false identities: Mobile phone, SMS

Do please let me know (in the comments section below) if you can think of other communication technologies, Web 2.0 applications, examples, etc. Thanks!

Patrick Philippe Meier

18 responses to “Gene Sharp, Civil Resistance and Technology

  1. what a great blog & resource! Will blog your blog — very cool…will take a bit to read through it, but have a couple of days…

  2. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Between Digital Activism and Civil Resistance

  3. Hello Patrick,
    While it doesn’t map to technological uses per se, the link above maps the last three years of Peacework Magazine to Gene Sharp’s schema (modified very slightly for our indexing use). Your article, for example, on Burma and possibilities for nonviolent intervention was classified, among other things, under:
    4.02.03 crossing legal lines 4.02.06 nonviolent direct action technologies 4.02.12 nonviolent direct action controversies 4.02.15 nonviolent occupation of land or buildings 4.03 nonviolent intervention 4.03.01 nonviolent interjection between parties to a conflict 4.03.02 nonviolent accompaniment 4.04 political non-cooperation 4.04.01 calls for resistance 4.04.03 refusals to comply or stalling compliance 4.04.06 refusing to obey particular laws.
    Thanks for all your work,

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  5. Gene Sharp (download only – player is not playing this film for some reason)

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  8. Hey Patrick, this is great. Back in 2001 I created a tactic/outcome matrix for the repertoire of electronic contention: John Emerson from backspace drew on some of these categories and produced the much more practical Intro to Activism on the Net: Enjoy! 🙂

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  10. Pingback: Civil Resistance 2.0: A New Database of Methods | The Meta-Activism Project

  11. Pingback: Civil Resistance 2.0: A New Database on Non-Violent Guerrilla Warfare | iRevolution

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