In each case, civil resistance by ordinary members of the public trumped the political elite to achieve radical change.
There are, of course, many ethical reasons to use nonviolent strategies. But compelling research by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, confirms that civil disobedience is not only the moral choice; it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics — by a long way. Looking at hundreds of campaigns over the last century, Chenoweth found that nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to achieve their goals as violent campaigns. And although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, she has shown it takes around 3.
So just how did she come to these conclusions? View image of Credit: Getty Images.
Yet Chenoweth admits that when she first began her research in the mids, she was initially rather cynical of the idea that nonviolent actions could be more powerful than armed conflict in most situations. As a PhD student at the University of Colorado, she had spent years studying the factors contributing to the rise of terrorism when she was asked to attend an academic workshop organised by the International Center of Nonviolent Conflict ICNC , a non-profit organisation based in Washington DC.
The workshop presented many compelling examples of peaceful protests bringing about lasting political change — including, for instance, the People Power protests in the Philippines. But Chenoweth was surprised to find that no-one had comprehensively compared the success rates of nonviolent versus violent protests; perhaps the case studies were simply chosen through some kind of confirmation bias. Working with Maria Stephan, a researcher at the ICNC, Chenoweth performed an extensive review of the literature on civil resistance and social movements from to — a data set then corroborated with other experts in the field.
They primarily considered attempts to bring about regime change. A movement was considered a success if it fully achieved its goals both within a year of its peak engagement and as a direct result of its activities. A regime change resulting from foreign military intervention would not be considered a success, for instance.
A campaign was considered violent, meanwhile, if it involved bombings, kidnappings, the destruction of infrastructure — or any other physical harm to people or property. By the end of this process, they had collected data from violent and nonviolent campaigns.
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