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Civil Resistance and Power Politics: Domestic and International Dimensions

Tahrir Square in the early hours of 11 Feb 2011. President Mubarak resigned later that day - Image by Jonathan Rashad / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

The project assesses the nature and significance of civil (i.e. non-violent) resistance, especially, though not exclusively, in the period from the 1960s up to now. It aims to raise the academic level of treatment of the subject.

This mode of political action has been of demonstrable importance in the past hundred years and more, yet there has been far too little serious study of many of its aspects. A focus on this phenomenon and its roles in international politics challenges the view that only the exercise of power by military means can bring about fundamental changes in authoritarian societies.

On the other hand, civil resistance does not conform to the vision of it as replacing violence in ever-expanding spheres of action. There has been a complex set of interactions between civil resistance and other dimensions of power – military, economic and ideological – and in some cases armed conflict has followed. The project explores these interactions in a rigorous and open-minded way, asking a number of hard questions that are often avoided, and exploring a wide range of relevant historical evidence. The resulting books and other output are aimed to assist a better understanding of civil resistance on the part of governments, activists, members of the public, and scholars. They may therefore have significance for future action as well as for understanding the past and present.

Project Outputs

Numerous lectures and workshops have been held, including a landmark international conference on Civil Resistance and Power Politics in March 2007. This conference resulted in an edited book, Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, edited by Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash. 

A second book, on Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring: Triumphs and Disasters, edited by Adam Roberts, Michael J. Willis, Rory McCarthy and Timothy Garton Ash, was published in early 2016.   An Arabic translation of this book was published in late 2017 by  All Prints, Beirut, and is also obtainable from Jamalon online bookstore, based in Amman; and at Neelwafurat.com, based in Beirut.

In October 2016 a new two-term optional course, ‘Nonviolent Resistance Movements’, was started at Oxford University: it is part of the MSc in Global Governance & Diplomacy, a nine-month postgraduate degree course. The Instructor for the new optional course is the MSc Course Director, Dr John Gledhill. This new option was set up by Dr Gledhill in consultation with the Oxford University Project on Civil Resistance and Power Politics.