Nonviolent Action Lab

Producing and disseminating knowledge on nonviolent action

The Nonviolent Action Lab produces and disseminates up-to-date knowledge on nonviolent action, how it works, and global trends in success and failure. The world is facing numerous crises that demand urgent and effective nonviolent action. Movements worldwide are fighting global inaction on climate change, discrimination against refugee and immigrant communities fleeing war and hardship, and rising global inequality. At the same time, the very institution of democracy is under threat. Over the past decade, authoritarian backsliding has occurred in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Brazil, India, the United States, and elsewhere. The rise of digital authoritarianism has created more opportunities for more sophisticated forms of repression, which has disrupted and undermined nonviolent movements that have relied on digital organizing and online activism to build their movements. Movements are fighting back against corruption, injustice, and violence in almost every country of the world. What remains to be seen is how effective they will be in challenging entrenched power in increasingly complex environments.

Existing research shows that nonviolent resistance can be a highly effective pathway to defend democratic values and institutions, while also creating transformative change in many domains. Yet many people remain skeptical about the power of nonviolent resistance to effect change. Part of the reason for this skepticism is that information about the power of nonviolent resistance—and up-to-date data demonstrating its power—is inaccessible to many people in the world. By systematically studying and amplifying nonviolent resistance, and synthesizing lessons learned from global movements worldwide, the lab will make it easier for the public and practitioners to embrace nonviolent action as a means of transforming injustice. 

 

News and Announcements

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Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Receives Gift from Topol Family Foundation to Support Launch of Nonviolent Action Lab

May 26, 2020

Cambridge, MA – The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School is pleased to announce a generous gift from the Topol Family Foundation to support the Center’s program on nonviolent social movements.... Read more about Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Receives Gift from Topol Family Foundation to Support Launch of Nonviolent Action Lab

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Select Publications

Questions, Answers, and Some Cautionary Updates Regarding the 3.5% Rule

Citation:

Erica Chenoweth. 4/20/2020. “Questions, Answers, and Some Cautionary Updates Regarding the 3.5% Rule.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-005. See full text.
Questions, Answers, and Some Cautionary Updates Regarding the 3.5% Rule

Abstract:

The “3.5% rule” refers to the claim that no government has withstood a challenge of 3.5% of their population mobilized against it during a peak event. In this brief paper, author Erica Chenoweth addresses some of the common questions about the 3.5% rule, as well as several updates from more recent work on this topic.

Four key takeaways are as follows:

  • The 3.5% figure is a descriptive statistic based on a sample of historical movements. It is not necessarily a prescriptive one, and no one can see the future. Trying to achieve the threshold without building a broader public constituency does not guarantee success in the future.
  • The 3.5% participation metric may be useful as a rule of thumb in most cases; however, other factors—momentum, organization, strategic leadership, and sustainability—are likely as important as large-scale participation in achieving movement success and are often precursors to achieving 3.5% participation.
  • New research suggests that one nonviolent movement, Bahrain in 2011-2014, appears to have decisively failed despite achieving over 6% popular participation at its peak. This suggests that there has been at least one exception to the 3.5% rule, and that the rule is a tendency, rather than a law.
  • Large peak participation size is associated with movement success. However, most mass nonviolent movements that have succeeded have done so even without achieving 3.5% popular participation. 

Read the full paper. 

: Erica Chenoweth | April 20 2020
: The “3.5% rule” refers to the claim that no government has withstood a challenge of 3.5% of their population mobilized against it during a peak event.
Last updated on 04/21/2020

The Science of contemporary Street Protest: New efforts in the United States

The Science of contemporary Street Protest: New efforts in the United States

Abstract:

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, there has been substantial and ongoing protest against the Administration. Street demonstrations are some of the most visible forms of opposition to the Administration and its policies. This article reviews the two most central methods for studying street protest on a large scale: building comprehensive event databases and conducting field surveys of participants at demonstrations. After discussing the broader development of these methods, this article provides a detailed assessment of recent and ongoing projects studying the current wave of contention. Recommendations are offered to meet major challenges, including making data publicly available in near real time, increasing the validity and reliability of event data, expanding the scope of crowd surveys, and integrating ongoing projects in a meaningful way by building new research infrastructure.

: Erica Chenoweth et al. | Oct 23 2019
: Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, there has been substantial and ongoing protest against the Administration.
Last updated on 02/11/2020

Civil Action and the Dynamics of Violence

Citation:

Erica Chenoweth, Deborah Avant, Marie Berry, Rachel Epstein, Cullen Hendrix, Oliver Kaplan, and Timothy Sisk. 9/25/2019. Civil Action and the Dynamics of Violence, Pp. 320. Oxford University Press. See full text.
Civil Action and the Dynamics of Violence

Abstract:

This comprehensive study introduces scholars and practitioners to the concept of civil action. It locates civil action within the wider spectrum of behavior in the midst of civil conflict and war, and showcases empirical findings about the effects of civil action in nine cases from around the world. It explains the ways in which non-violent actions during civil war affect the dynamics of violence.

Many view civil wars as violent contests between armed combatants. But history shows that community groups, businesses, NGOs, local governments, and even armed groups can respond to war by engaging in civil action. Characterized by a reluctance to resort to violence and a willingness to show enough respect to engage with others, civil action can slow, delay, or prevent violent escalations. This volume explores how people in conflict environments engage in civil action, and the ways such action has affected violence dynamics in Syria, Peru, Kenya, Northern Ireland, Mexico, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Spain, and Colombia. These cases highlight the critical and often neglected role that civil action plays in conflicts around the world.

: Erica Chenoweth et al. | Sept 25 2019
: Explore how people in conflict environments engage in civil action, and the ways such action has affected violence dynamics in nine countries around the world.
Last updated on 02/03/2020
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Research shows that demonstrations are just one of many tools that civil resistance movements can use to effect change. Such movements are effective when they do three things: attract widespread and diverse participation; develop a strategy that allows them to maneuver around repression; and provoke defections, loyalty shifts, or disobedience among regime elites and/or security forces.”

- Erica Chenoweth