You are here

A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements

Volume One -> A. Introduction to Nonviolent Action -> A. 1. Theory Methods and Examples -> A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements

The entries in this section indicate the very wide range of unarmed resistance movements that have occurred over the last 150 years, and in particular since the 1980s. Many of them also reflect a growing sophistication within the literature on nonviolent action in trying to explain the internal logic and political impact of such movements through comparative analysis. Some of the books are influenced by the wider literature of military strategic studies and refer to Clausewitz, Liddell Hart and other classics of strategic theory, but the emphasis is on developing a specific understanding of strategy in the context of unarmed resistance – and problems of combining armed and unarmed rebellion. Some of these issues are also developed in the literature exploring ‘civilian’ or unarmed defence strategy – see sub-section A.4.

Special issue of Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, no. 34, 2012, ‘Nonviolent Conflict and Civil Resistance’, edited by Lester Kurtz and Sharon Erickson Nepstad who comment on the rapid growth of academic interest in the past decade.

Ackerman, Peter, The Checklist to End Tyranny: How Dissidents Will Win 21st Century Civil Resistance Campaigns, Washington D.C., International Center for Nonviolent Conflict Press, 2021, pp. pb

This ICNC publication is designed to help opponents of autocratic regimes 'become more strategic and more skillful' in their struggle for democracy. The booklet is also directed towards professionals in democracy promotion and foreign policy to assist their understanding of the issues involved. Ackerman founded ICNC and is the author of important books on civil resistance.

Ackerman, Peter ; Duvall, Jack, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, New York and Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2000, pp. 554

Analysis of a selection of predominantly nonviolent struggles from Russia 1905 to Serbia 2000, arguing against ‘the mythology of violence’. Some of the case studies are standard in books on civil resistance, others – for example the 1990 movement in Mongolia – less familiar. Each chapter has a useful bibliography. The book arose out of a 1999 US documentary television series ‘A Force More Powerful’, now available on DVD, and therefore includes, in the more recent cases, information from interviews.

Ackerman, Peter ; Kruegler, Christopher, Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century, Westport CT, Praeger, 1993, pp. 366

Focuses on the importance of resistance strategy in determining the outcome. Outlines 12 principles of strategic action and assesses five movements (Russia 1905, Ruhr 1923, the Indian independence campaign,, resistance in German-occupied Denmark, and Solidarity in Poland) in relation to these principles.

Bartkowski, Maciej J., Recovering Nonviolent History: Civil Resistance in Liberation Struggles, Boulder, CO, Lynne Rienner, 2013, pp. 436

Ambitious volume in historical and geographical range (from 1765 to current struggles, and in every continent). Individual chapters feature in relevant sections of this bibliography.

Chenoweth, Erica, The Future of Nonviolent Resistance, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 31, issue 3, 2020, pp. 69-84

Important article addressing the question why, when there have been so many examples of impressive nonviolent resistance around the world - especially since 2019, the success rate has been so low.  Chenoweth notes the impact of Covid since 2020 as well as 'savvier state responses', but suggests the key reasons lie in the need to focus on building coalitions, grassroots organizing, strategy and planning.

Chenoweth, Erica, Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 2021, pp. 256

This study, by one of the authors of the acclaimed Why Civil Resistance Works, is designed as an accessible overview of what civil resistance is, how it is effective, its use around the world, and its long term impact. It covers the theory and history of civil resistance, and includes chapters on the problems of violence against movements and violence within them.    

Chenoweth, Erica ; Cunningham, Kathleen Gallagher, Understanding Nonviolent Resistance, Special Issue, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 50 no. 3 (May), 2013

After introductory essays by the editors and by Kurt Schock, there are sections on: ‘Explaining Nonviolent Resistance’, ‘Dynamics of Nonviolent Contention’ and ‘Outcomes’. Topics covered include self-determination disputes, gender ideologies and forms of mobilisation in the Middle East, role of mutiny in the Arab Spring, transitions in autocracies and transitions from armed to unarmed struggles.

Chenoweth, Erica ; Stephan, Maria J., Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, New York, Columbia University Press, 2011, pp. 296

Combines statistical analysis with case studies of unarmed resistance to argue that since 1900 nonviolent resistance campaigns have been strategically more effective than violent campaigns. Also analyses factors that promote success or failure of nonviolent campaigns. An earlier version of their overall argument was published as Chenoweth, Erica ; Stephan, Maria J., Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict International Security, 2008, pp. 7-44 , including useful case studies of East Timor, the Philippines and Burma 1988-1990.

Clark, Howard, People Power: Unarmed Resistance and Global Solidarity, London, Pluto Press, 2009, pp. 237

The Introduction and Afterword discuss key strategic questions and Part I consists of five case studies of nonviolent resistance from 5 continents. But the major focus is on forms of transnational support for resistance campaigns and the possible problems (as well major advantages) of not only governmental, but also nongovernmental support and intervention. Some of the main chapters in Part II and Part III are therefore listed separately under A.5.

Cortright, David, Gandhi and Beyond: Nonviolence for the Age of Terrorism, Boulder CO, Paradigm Publishers, 2006, pp. 265

Offers a contemporary analysis of Gandhi, while tracing how subsequent US figures and campaigns have applied and enhanced an understanding of ‘applied nonviolence’ that is an effective methodology rooted in values, including feminist values.

Della Porta, Donatella, Mobilizing for Democracy: Comparing 1989 and 2011, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 384

Expert on social movements combines analysis of movements with theory of democratisation, and using comparative framework discusses causes and outcomes of 1989 movements in Eastern Europe with the Middle East and North Africa from 2011. Particular, but by no means exclusive, focus on GDR and Czechoslovakia and on Tunisia and Egypt.

Dudouet, Véronique, Nonviolent Resistance in Power Asymmetries, revised and updated 2011, In Austin, Beatrix ; Fischer, Martina ; Giessmann, Hans J., Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation [2004] Berlin, Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management, , 2011, pp. 237-264

Summarises evolution of nonviolent resistance in theory and practice and explores its role in redressing structural asymmetry and as a prelude to reconciliation and peace building.

Explores the context and conditions in which nonviolent resistance can contribute to successful and sustainable conflict transformation processes. The author introduces the concept, aims and methods of nonviolent action and explores conceptual and empirical developments throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. She illustrates its potential and limits, both in transforming asymmetric power structures and in encouraging democratic practices, using the example of the Palestinian first intifada in the Israeli/Palestinian struggle. (updated and revised for 2011 print edition)

Dudouet, Véronique, Civil Resistance and Conflict Transformation – Transitions from Armed to Nonviolent Struggle, London, Routledge, 2014, pp. 262

Chapters on: Western Sahara, West Papua, Palestine, South Africa (in 1980s), the Zapatistas. Egypt, Nepal and on indigenous armed struggle and nonviolent resistance in Colombia.

Engler, Mark ; Engler, Paul, This is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the Twenty-First Century, New York, Nation Books, 2016, pp. 368

The book examines how contemporary movements are using strategic nonviolent action to promote social change, covering a range of protests including climate change, immigrant rights, gay rights, Occupy and Black Lives Matter. The authors argue that nonviolent uprisings are becoming more common than violent rebellion, and look back to twentieth century antecedents in the Indian Independence and US Civil Rights movements, examine the nature of effective strategy and discuss organizational discipline. Their analysis includes the Arab Spring, but notes its discouraging implications.

Falk, Barbara, Rethinking the Revolutionary Recipe: 1989 and the Idea of Non-Violent Revolution', Visegrad Insight, 2020

Falk assesses the nature of the 1989 revolutions, which she delineates as the collapse of communist regimes across Eastern Europe in a context of commitment to nonviolence by key players (with the exception of Romania) and of restraint by both Gorbachev in the USSR and western leaders. Year 1989 appeared to usher in a new concept of peaceful revolution, which could be applied to challenge other repressive regimes. But, Falk argues, these attempts, as in the '2009 Green Revolution' in Iran and the 'Arab Spring' in 2011 in Egypt and elsewhere, have resulted in defeat.  The author also notes other factors, which militate against successful nonviolent revolution. These include the greater ruthlessness (compared with the East European Communist regimes of the 1980s) of many of today's dictatorships, the declining respect for the US and for liberal democracy as an ideal, a rise in barbaric violence (represented by ISIS) and the complex role of today's communication technologies, which can mobilize protest but promote lack of leadership capable of formulating negotiable demands. The article references a number of other interesting recent perspectives on revolution today.   

Ganz, Marshall, Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organisation, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movements, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 344

Uses the struggle of Latino farmworkers in California in the 1960s to illustrate the concept of ‘strategic capacity’ – how strategic resourcefulness can sometimes compensate for lack of resources.

Gee, Tim, Counterpower: Making Change Happen, Oxford, New Internationalist Publications, 2011, pp. 222

Lively discussion of the strategies and methods popular movements can use to win struggles against various forms of oppression and to undermine elites. Includes brief accounts of the struggles for Indian independence, the ending of apartheid and the overthrow of Mubarak, as well the extension of the franchise in Britain, opposition to the Vietnam War, and resistance to corporate power.

Hardiman, David, The Nonviolent Struggle for Indian Freedom- 1905-19, London, C. Hurst & Co., 2018, pp. 280

This is the first volume in a study of Gandhi's role in relation to the broader history of Indian movements for justice and independence, by a British historian who has specialised in Indian history and peasant struggles. The book includes important and little known material on Indian 'passive resistance' movements from 1905-1909, charts Gandhi's role in the 'passive resistance' in South Africa 1906-14, and after his return to India his varied links to different forms of peasant resistance in Bijoliya, Champaran (often covered in literautre on Gandhi) and Kheda. This volume concludes with an assessment of Gandhi's evolving theory of nonviolence in relation to other theories of the time, and his leadership role in the 1919 resistance to the Rowlatt Acts.

Hare, Paul ; Blumberg, Herbert H., Nonviolent Direct Action: American Cases: Social-Psychological Analyses, Washington DC, Corpus Books, 1968, pp. 575

Discusses earlier and contemporary theoretical analyses of nonviolence from a social psychological standpoint, and combines this with examples of nonviolent action and peace campaigns in the USA.

Helvey, Robert L., On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking about Fundamentals, Cambridge MA, Albert Einstein Institution, 2004, pp. 178

Retired US Army colonel, now colleague of Gene Sharp, examines the basis of political power and the methods and strategy of nonviolent struggle. His guidelines for preparing a Strategic Estimate are also included in Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Struggle.

Kurtz, Lester ; Smithey, Lee, The Paradox of Repression and Nonviolent Movements, Syracuse, NY, Syracuse University Press, 2018, pp. 368 pb

The focus of this study is on how movements using nonviolent tactics can respond to repression, and increase the potential for repressive and violent measures to backfire.  The contributors include both social scientists and activists who have experienced repression, providing an analysis of the different forms of repression possible, and of methods protesters might use in response.

Lakey, George, Powerful Peacemaking: A Strategy for a Living Revolution, [1973], Philadelphia PA, New Society Publishers, 1987, pp. 246

Analyses revolutionary popular movements (such as Guatemala and El Salvador 1944, and France 1968) and issues of cultural preparation, organisation and tactics from a committed nonviolent standpoint. Also discusses how to develop and defend revolution by decentralizing power and use of nonviolent civilian defence.

Maney, Gregory M. ; Kutz-Flamenbaum, Rachel V. ; Rohlinger, Deana A. ; Goodwin, Jeff, Strategies for Social Change, Minnesota, University of Minnesota Press, 2012, pp. 360

Investigates strategic choices of a range of social movements.

Martin, Brian, Nonviolent Struggle and Social Defence, ed. Shelley Anderson and Janet Larmore, London, War Resisters' International, 1991

Analysis of nonviolent action and case studies of people power in Asia, Eastern Europe, Middle East, Central and South America and South Africa.

Martin, Brian, Justice Ignited: The Dynamics of Backfire, Lanham MD, Rowman and Littlefield, 2007, pp. 236

Analysis of how violent attacks can (but do not always) backfire on the perpetrators. Not solely about unarmed resistance movements, but the theoretical framework is relevant to nonviolent strategy and there are chapters on Sharpeville, South Africa 1960. the 1991 Dili massacre in East Timor, and the 1930 salt works protest in Dharasana, India. Many of Brian Martin’s publications are online at

Martin, Brian, Nonviolence Unbound, Sparsnäs, Sweden, Irene Publishing, 2015, pp. 354

Explores how methods of nonviolent action can be used effectively in contexts where unfamiliar: verbal abuse, online defamation, and struggles in relation to euthanasia and vaccination.

Miller, William Robert, Nonviolence: A Christian Interpretation, London, Allen and Unwin, 1965, pp. 380

Discusses the nature and dynamics of nonviolent action and briefly covers several unarmed resistance movements (the accuracy of the account of the Danish resistance in World War has been questioned).

Nepstad, Sharon Erickson, Nonviolent Revolutions: Civil Resistance in the Late Twentieth Century, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 178

Compares ‘unsuccessful’ and ‘successful’ movements against Socialist regimes (Tiananmen and East Germany 1989), against military regimes (Panama and Chile in the 1980s) and against personal dictators (Kenyan opposition to Moi and the Philippines struggle against Marcos). Draws some fairly brief general conclusions.

Nepstad, Sharon Erickson, Nonviolent Struggle: Theories, Strategies, and Dynamics, New York, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 264

Designed as a textbook, it covers history, theoretical developments and debates about the results of nonviolent movements. It categorizes nine types of nonviolent action, which are illustrated by case studies.  A separate chapter explores key issues of why and when sections of the armed services defect from a regime challenged by a nonviolent movement. 

Pinckney, Jonathan, Making or Breaking Nonviolent Discipline in Civil Resistance Movements, Washington, D.C., International Centre on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC Monograph Series), 2016, pp. 102

The book discusses what factors encourage or undermine nonviolent discipline, including the reactions of the government and the way the movement is itself organised. 

Pinckney, Jonathan, When Civil Resistance Succeeds: Building Democracy After Popular Nonviolent Uprisings, Washington, D.C., International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, 2018, pp. 104 (pb)

Examines why some nonviolent revolutions result in democratization, while others do not, and discusses how protesters can promote democratic outcomes. Focuses in particular on the role of civil society both before and after the revolution.

Popovic, Srdja ; Miller, Matthew, Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanise Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World, Melbourne and London, Scribe, 2015, pp. 282

Popovic, an activist against the Milosevic regime in Serbia in the 1990s, went on to find CANVAS, which has offered advice and nonviolent training to activists in former Soviet states and other parts of the world, including Egypt before Tahrir Square and Syria. The book emphasizes the role of CANVAS (but does not address criticism of its role) and foregrounds the author's own experiences and interpretation of nonviolent action. It covers many varied campaigns with examples of how to mobilize successfully and use humour and imaginative forms of protest. It also addresses how to make oppression 'backfire' and the need to persevere in one's effort after apparent success. Written for activists rather than for scholars of nonviolence. 

Randle, Michael, Civil Resistance, (Online at, London, Fontana, 1994, pp. 259

Chapters 1-4 focus on the history and dynamics of nonviolent resistance, and its increasing use in recent decades, within a framework of broader historical analysis. The main emphasis is on national resistance to oppressive regimes. The second half of the book analyses civilian (nonviolent) defence (see A.5.b.)

Translations: Spanish
Randle, Michael, Challenge to Nonviolence, (Online at, Bradford, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, 2002, pp. 304

A wide-ranging compilation of papers presented to the Nonviolent Action Research Project in Bradford from 1994 to 1999, with extensive notes on the group discussion.

Roberts, Adam ; Garton Ash, Timothy, Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 407

The Foreword to the 2011 paperback comments on the Arab Spring.

Succinct analytical case studies (organised around a set of questions) of movements of unarmed resistance from Gandhi to Burma in 2007, with incisive introductory and concluding assessments. Particular emphasis on the impact of external governmental pressures in promoting the success of resistance. One chapter analyses the role of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe up to 1989.

Schock, Kurt, Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Nondemocracies, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2005, pp. 228

Seeks to address the lack of explicitly comparative analysis of how nonviolent methods promote political transformation. Examines success of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa (1983-90), and pro-democracy movements in the Philippines (1983-86), Nepal (1990) and Thailand (1991-92), and explores failure of such as movements in China (1989) and Burma (1988). Lists major actions in each movement. Includes analysis and criticism of ‘consent’ theory of power.

Translations: Spanish
Schock, Kurt, Civil Resistance Today, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2015, pp. 232

Survey of historical origins of nonviolent resistance (Gandhi, US Civil Rights) and the numerous recent movements, including both resistance to political oppression and movements for economic and social justice (e.g. Occupy). Schock also analyses the causes of resistance and reasons for success or failure.

Sharp, Gene, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Parts 2 ‘The Methods of Nonviolent Action’ and Part 3 ‘Strategy and Dynamics of Nonviolent Action’, Vol. 2 & 3, Boston, Porter Sargent, 1973, , 3 volumespp. 902

Part 1 of this now classic analysis explores the political and sociological theories underlying nonviolent resistance to develop a 'consent theory of power'; this has since been much debated. Part 1 also discusses nonviolent action as an 'active technique of struggle' and contextualizes Gandhi's contribution within a much wider historical context of major resistance movements dating from the later 18th century to 1968. Part 2 categorises and illustrates the now famous list of 198 methods, while the longest volume, Part 3, elaborates Sharp’s strategic approach.

Sharp, Gene, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential, Boston, Porter Sargent, 2005, pp. 598

An abbreviated and slightly modified version of Sharp’s general argument in The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Includes 23 brief case studies of campaigns from the Russian Revolution of 1905 to the Serbian people power of 2000 (some written by Sharp’s collaborators: Joshua Paulson, Christopher A. Miller and Hardy Merriman).

Sharp, Gene, From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation, [1993], London, Housmans Bookshop, 2011, pp. 94

Also published by London, Serpent’s Tail, 2012, and available from the Albert Einstein Institution (see website).

Written at the request of a Burmese dissident, this is now widely known as a succinct analysis of how nonviolent resistance can overthrow tyrannical regimes.

Translations: Spanish | Italian | French
Stephan, Maria, Civil Resistance vs ISIS, Journal of Resistance Studies, Vol. 1, issue 2, 2015, pp. 127-147

Stephan, co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works, examines the new threat posed by ISIS and its ambition to create an Islamic caliphate based on an extreme and violent interpretation of Islam.  She suggests how civil resistance can help to contain ISIS and undermine its appeal and ability to recruit.

Stephan, Maria J., Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization, and Governance in the Middle East, New York, Palgrave McMillan, 2009, pp. 344

See introduction to Section V.E. Middle East and North Africa for notes.

Summy, Ralph V., Nonviolence and the Case of the Extremely Ruthless Opponent, Pacifica Review, issue May/June, 1994, pp. 1-29

Also available in Kumar, Mahendra ; Low, Peter , Legacy and Future of Nonviolence New Delhi, Gandhi Peace Foundation, , 1996 , pp. 141-57.

Sémelin, Jaques, Freedom Over the Airwaves: From the Czech Coup to the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Washington, D.C., International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, 2017, pp. 312 (pb)

Eminent French historian and theorist of nonviolent resistance explores the links  between media of communication and nonviolent campaigns, focusing on key examples of resistance in Communist Eastern Europe from 1948-1989.

Thompson, Mark R., Democratic Revolutions: Asia and Eastern Europe, London, Routledge, 2004, pp. 180

Essays discussing people power in the Philippines, East Germany and Serbia, comparing the strengths and weaknesses of opposition, and the regime in China with Eastern Europe in 1989, to explain different outcomes, and reflecting on issues such as ‘female leadership of democratic revolutions in Asia’.

Zunes, Stephen ; Kurtz, Lester R. ; Asher, Sarah Beth, Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective, Oxford, Blackwell, 1999, pp. 330

Well-documented accounts of nonviolent action around the world, mostly since the 1970s. (Individual chapters are also cited in the appropriate geographical sections of this bibliography.) Also includes a feminist critique of the masculinist bias of many works on nonviolence (by Pam McAllister) and essay by sociologist Kenneth Boulding on power (cited under A.1.a. ii).

See also: