“isn’t all violence bad, though?” : an investigation into the role of violence in nonviolent resistance (2020)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Thesis DisciplinePolitical Science
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
This thesis examines the role that violence plays in the practice and theory of nonviolent resistance. The project investigates not only the occurrence of violence in movements and movement dynamics, but also the role of different definitions of violence, and disagreements about this. In this way, the thesis removes the concept of nonviolent resistance from an assumed violence-free sphere, not as an attempt to argue that the differentiation between violent and nonviolent resistance is hypocritical or meaningless, but rather, to take seriously the grey areas and blurry definitional lines between them. This is first introduced in the beginning of the project as an attempt to move away from purist conceptions of nonviolent resistance. The thesis starts with a review of the current nonviolence literature, focusing on these definitional questions, but also on how and why nonviolence works. It examines the history of nonviolence, in particular a certain popular narrative of this history, and discusses the concept of violence in more depth than what is usually found in nonviolence literature. This discussion is crucial to the overall project, because it allows for more nuanced and varied understandings of violence to be incorporated into the discussion of what it is nonviolence does not do (or tries to not do). For example, the arguments that private violence is political, that violence can be systemic and structural, and that non-material harm may count as violence, are used in the thesis to broaden the scope of what nonviolence might mean. Following from this, the project looks at three different concrete ways in which violence, and definitions of violence, impact nonviolent resistance: violence that opponents use towards nonviolent movements; violence that can happen within nonviolent movements; and violence in and around collective identity formation processes in nonviolent movements. These three are by no means the only ways in which the project highlights that violence impacts nonviolent resistance, but a starting point for these discussions. The thesis asks whether it is possible to conceive of nonviolence not as a check-list of actions or techniques, but an aspiration of being against violence in all forms and venues. This is not, of course, a call to do all of that all the time, but rather to treat the definition of nonviolent resistance as a dynamic and open process in which it is not pre-determined which forms of violence matter, and which do not.