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Dr. Erica Chenoweth, University of Denver – Success of Non-Violent Revolution

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Erica Chenoweth of the University of Denver examines the success rates of both violent and non-violent resistance movements.

Erica Chenoweth is an assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, where she teaches courses on international relations, terrorism, civil war, nonviolent resistance, and contemporary warfare. In addition, she is an Associate Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo. Her book with Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, won the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Colorado.

Dr. Erica Chenoweth – Success of Non-Violent Revolution

Maria Stephan and I began this project with the goal of understanding whether strategic nonviolent resistance or armed action is superior at achieving political change. We collected data on all known uprisings between 1900 and 2006 with more than 1,000 visible participants seeking the overthrow of a dictatorship, secession, or the removal of a foreign military occupation. We identified many such cases—108 where unarmed civilians uses a variety of nonviolent methods such as strikes, boycotts, protests, demonstrations, stay-aways, and go-slows—and 225 where armed rebels used violent methods, such as bombings, assassinations, armed attacks, and direct confrontations with government forces.

The results of our research astonished both of us. Amazingly, the nonviolent campaigns were more than twice as successful as the violent ones, even in the face of brutal regime repression. And countries that experienced nonviolent uprisings were much more likely to emerge from the conflicts democratic and with a lower risk of civil war relapse. We also found that nonviolent campaigns fail when they don’t attract a large number of diverse participants, when they succumb to internal factional fighting, or when they fail to shift between methods of concentration (like demonstrations, rallies, and protests) and lower-risk methods of dispersion (like strikes and boycotts).

Our book challenges the claim that violent resistance is fruitful as an avenue of political change. In many cases where violent insurgency has worked, a well-executed nonviolent campaign may have been equally as successful. And in most places where nonviolent resistance is impossible, violent resistance does not perform any better.

If enough people become convinced that civil resistance works while creating more enduring, stable, and representative democracies, then over time, it may become a sufficient substitute for violence.

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