This sub-section includes a cross section of contemporary books and essays on nonviolent or civil resistance that seek to engage with themes of power, violence, revolution, and the potential for reconciliation or accommodation between opponents (rather than the strategy of nonviolent action or detailed case studies). A key focus of debate within the civil resistance literature is the ‘consent theory of power’ (the view that oppressive regimes can be effectively undermined by the oppressed withdrawing obedience) which has been central to the evolution of the literature, and in recent decades especially associated with Gene Sharp’s work. A number of scholars have elaborated on why withdrawal of consent through non-cooperation is not always relevant. An alternative (although closely related) approach is to alter the will of an oppressor. Gandhi and those influenced by him have emphasized this element in seeking to ‘convert’ opponents through the mode of resistance and voluntary suffering (see Section A.2), but a more strategic emphasis on the importance of altering will can be found in Robert Burrowes, The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense (180, A.4.b), who draws on Clausewitz. Recent analysts of civil resistance have also drawn on scholarly theorizing of power – for example structuralism and post-structuralism (see a.1.iii).
Civil disobedience (a central form of nonviolent resistance) has repeatedly attracted debate, both in traditional and contemporary political theory – especially where protest movements challenge formally democratic or semi-democratic regimes. The terms of debate have continuously shifted, both within movements and in response to their actions.
Books and articles that focus in detail on the dynamics and strategy of nonviolent action, discuss reasons for ‘success’ or ‘failure’, and debate how to respond to key problems (such as ruthless repression, or the oppressor’s lack of reliance on the consent of the oppressed) are listed in sub-section 1b. Some books inevitably overlap between 1a and 1b, for example most include some discussion of the concept of power. Some key references in 1b (or later sections) that discuss the concept of power relevant to nonviolent action are cross-referenced at the end of this section.