By: Erica Chenoweth, Rational Insurgent, May 7, 2014

From the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict newsletter: Scholar Erica Chenoweth, recounts how her research led her to conclude that nonviolent campaigns were succeeding more often than violent campaigns despite a variety of factors that are typically asserted as predetermining such outcomes. She credits the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict for providing her with the resources and support to develop the NAVCO Data Project, now the signature quantitative resource on the comparative characteristics and outcomes of nonviolent and violent campaigns. Despite her initial skepticism in the field of civil resistance studies, she states: “The intuitions of many advocates of nonviolent resistance were correct and the assumptions of many cynics-including myself-were dead wrong.” 

In June 2006, I was a doctoral student at the University of Colorado-Boulder in the final stages of writing my dissertation on why terrorism occurs in democratic countries. I was spending my last summer teaching undergraduate courses in Boulder before heading off to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was due to take up a predoctoral fellowship at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in the fall.

Earlier that summer, I received an email from my colleague Victor Asal, forwarding an invitation he had received to a workshop called “People Power and Pedagogy.” “The other side of the coin – thought you might be interested,” Victor’s email said. Sponsored by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and hosted at Colorado College, this workshop was meant to introduce social scientists to the literature on nonviolent or “civil” resistance—a concept with which I was not familiar. In all of my time researching social movements, political power, and organized violence, I had never come across the work of ICNC’s co-founders, Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall, nor had I heard of Gene Sharp or any other academic powerhouses whose work had established the field of civil resistance studies.

Skeptical but curious—and more than a little enticed by the free food and books—I applied to the workshop. Soon thereafter, I received an acceptance letter from ICNC followed by a FedEx package full of books and papers on civil resistance, its theoretical and strategic dimensions, and the ways people power movements had accomplished in many cases what violent rebellion could not. These works made the claim—sometimes implicit, other times explicit—that civil resistance was as effective or even more effective than armed struggle in achieving major political concessions.

Read the full story of how this professor was turned from cynic to researcher on the topic.