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CARTER, April, Howard Clark and Michael Randle. People Power and Protest since 1945: a bibliography of nonviolent action
Article published on 26 February 2008

by r-c.
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A. Introduction to Nonviolent Action

1. Nonviolent Action: Theory, Methods and Examples

The aim here is to indicate some classic works on the theory and practice of nonviolent action/resistance, introduce authors contributing to the literature from a variety of ideological perspectives, and to note recent studies of people power.

Theoretical writings analyse the nature and dynamics of nonviolent action and discuss political, sociological and psychological explanations for the impact of nonviolent protest. The interpretation of power is a key issue, and a few of the titles listed are chosen partly for this reason; some of them have also inspired those engaging in resistance.

Nonviolent action has (as noted in the Introduction) become closely associated with the concept of ‘direct action’ since the 1950s, although direct action with its syndicalist roots is still open to interpretations which endorse some forms of violence. Several titles on direct action are therefore included.

Nonviolent action is even more closely associated with the concept of ‘civil disobedience’. The justification for disobeying unjust laws, or illegally challenging unjust regimes, has been elaborated (with different emphases) by key practitioners of civil disobedience such as Henry Thoreau, who went to jail for refusing to pay tax which would support slavery and the war on Mexico, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. These classic statements are frequently reprinted in various collections on nonviolent action or on civil disobedience listed below. The US Civil Rights Movement, civil disobedience against nuclear weapons and draft resistance to the Vietnam war sparked an academic debate among jurists and political theorists (referred to in some of the titles below). The most notable examination of the circumstances in which civil disobedience is justified within parliamentary democracies was provided by John Rawls, who in his landmark book A Theory of Justice (1972) explored the issue in depth in Chapter Six. Briefer summaries of Rawls’ position (which is similar to Gandhi’s) are available elsewhere, perhaps most accessibly in H.A. Bedau (ed.), Civil Disobedience (see below).

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