To Fight Without Violence: History, Theories, and Tactics of Nonviolent Civil Resistance

« Return to Course Catalog

This course is no longer being offered.

Show more courses like this one »

Course Description

Images and analysis of explicitly violent political actions dominate events that are covered by the media and feature in our understandings of history. Yet, many of us can still recall and visualize scenes from political nonviolent campaigns: masses of people under the rule of authoritarian regimes defiantly filling city streets, students attempting to do their homework at segregated lunch counters, and demonstrators chaining themselves to heavy machinery in order to disrupt processes of environmental destruction. In this course, we will work to strengthen our understanding of nonviolent political campaigns and civil resistance theories, and extend our definitions of conflict to also always include nonviolent conflict. In order to balance our understanding of nonviolence, we will also take time to consider why individuals, organizations, and nation-states choose to use violent mechanisms in order to achieve their goals. By the conclusion of our course, students will have a better understanding of how nonviolence fits into our historical and contemporary national and global narratives.

In our course, we will read about specific cases of nonviolent political action ranging from the historical to the ongoing, beginning in the US (with the Civil Rights Movement, the “Battle in Seattle”, and Standing Rock), and then expand our considerations around the world (to the Philippines, Timor-Leste, India, Palestine/Israel, Egypt, and Syria, among other countries). We will consider a variety of issues around which civil resistance has formed including claims of citizenship, autonomy, regime change, and land rights. We will also reflect on the often overlapping violences and militarisms of nation-states, corporations (such as Monsanto), and international organizations (such as the World Trade Organization), and will review what resistance campaigns have looked like against such mammoth and powerful systems and institutions, and hypothesize further what nonviolent resistance could look like. Students will be introduced to the rhetoric and legacy of figures including Martin Luther King, Jr and Mahatmas Gandhi. We will also read writers who have supported the use of violence by the oppressed including Franz Fanon, as well as political figures and groups from Latin America.

We will use our textual and visual materials to reflect on the following questions:
-Nonviolence is often considered the opposite of violence, but is this binary accurate?
-Does the concept of peace necessarily correlate with the practice of nonviolence?
-Does a co-existent violent wing help or hinder the efficacy of a predominately nonviolent campaign? Can nonviolence exist without violence as its aid? We will look at movements that were mostly nonviolent, but either willingly worked or involuntarily functioned alongside a violent faction with similar goals.
-What do we learn by comparing movements of nonviolence with one another? Is a comparative approach useful?
-How do chances for nonviolent success change in different contexts? For example, is nonviolence more effective against a democratic government than against a dictatorship?

Students will read provided chapters from books, academic articles, autobiographical testimony, and will watch films that help illustrate our cases. Readings will be read in class as well as assigned for homework. We will work collaboratively to critically think through the idea and application of nonviolence. At the end of the class, students will work individually or in a group to present a case of civil resistance or a nonviolent tactic of their choosing that was not covered in depth in our readings or discussions.

Much of the media coverage we consume and the history lessons we are taught tend to familiarize us with instances of violent conflict. By the conclusion of this course, students will have a better understanding of civil resistance in world history, and in its contemporary forms. Students should be able to critically discuss nonviolence and civil resistance both as distinct concepts and in relation to violence, and should be able to recognize the underrepresentation of nonviolence in textual and visual material.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0980
  • Length: 1 week

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

Visit Program Page Learn How to Apply
Back to Top