*We mourn the passing of Gene Sharp (1928-2018), an inspiration for nonviolent work around the globe.*
The 2011 Arab Spring has led to a revival of global interest in the phenomenon of nonviolent struggles for human rights and democracy. They are frequently seen as a powerful and constructive strategy for waging and transforming conflict.
Nonviolence might be described as a philosophy, arguing that the use of force is morally and politically illegitimate or counterproductive. It might also be described as a practice to achieve social change and express resistance to oppression.
We understand nonviolent resistance as a central dimension of conflict transformation, especially in contexts of highly asymmetrical power relations, where negotiations and reconciliation needs to be preceded by effective methods of levelling the playing field between conflict parties. Nonviolent action indeed acts as a tool in the hands of oppressed minorities or dominated groups to mobilise and take action towards empowerment and restructuring relations with their powerful opponent (power-holders or pro-status quo forces). The aim is both dialogue and resistance – dialogue with the people on the other side to persuade them, and resistance to the structures to compel change.
Nonviolent movements thus pursue the same goals as peacebuilders, namely, those of social change and increased justice through peaceful means.
Adopting the analytical lens of nonviolence helps us build bridges between research, practice and activism, and across communities or disciplines (e.g. social movements, conflict resolution, security, human rights).