The Politics Violence Frontier | Research Projects | Research

The Politics Violence Frontier

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What kinds of justifications do we have for deciding whether to act violently or non-violently?

Where do we draw the line between political action and violent action? How do activists justify various forms of action? And does acting politically need a different kind of justification than acting violently?

In the pursuit of social order, governments and states seek to justify, and to control, the use of force.  Meanwhile, claims for justice, rights, or social change frequently lead to conflict with forces of ‘order’, and violent confrontation often results. The frontier between politics and violence is one of the most pressing political problems of our time, both within states and internationally.

Many people draw a line between politics and violence – we talk of a group laying down their arms, and entering into a political process. But it is not that simple. For some people, armed struggle is part of the political process, and justifiable for political ends. There is also a grey area when non-violent action can be considered as violent – where it is used in a way which is somehow aggressive, or when it provokes violence in others.

This project is conducting fieldwork to ask current political activists about their understandings of the politics violence frontier. What kinds of actions may we engage in, and what kinds of justifications do we have for deciding to act violently or non-violently. Initial fieldwork has taken place in Italy. The project is now conducting initial analysis, and aims to design a larger comparative study of the politics-violence frontier across a range of cases of political activism in Northern and Southern Europe.

Project Objectives

  • To determine whether or not historical philosophical accounts of violence still have something to tell us about contemporary political action, protest and violence.
  • To determine whether or not the practical reasoning of political activists has something to tell us about how we should conceive the meaning and limits of the concept of political violence.
  • To develop an innovative mixed-methods research design robust enough to be suitable for the capture, classification and analysis of empirical field data.
  • To plan, organize and conduct a sophisticated data collection exercise in the field, and publish a fieldwork protocol for studies of protest, activism and violence in the field. 
  • To establish the feasibility of comparative data gathering exercises such as these.

External Partners

Professor Kimberly Hutchings of Queen Mary University of London is the project's co-principal investigator. She is the author of several books, including most recently Time and World Politics: thinking the present (2008) and Global Ethics: an introduction (2010).

Project Outputs


Elizabeth Frazer and Kimberly Hutchings, “Drawing the Line Between Violence and Non-Violence: deceits and conceits” in Christine Sylvester (ed) Masquerades of War (Abingdon and New York, Routledge, 2015).

Elizabeth Frazer and Kimberly Hutchings, “Feminism and the Critique of Violence: negotiating feminist political agency”, Journal of Political Ideologies 19 (2) 2014: 143-163.

Elizabeth Frazer and Kimberly Hutchings, “Revisiting Ruddick: Feminism, pacifism and non-violence”, Journal of International Political Theory. 10 (1) 2014: 109-124.

Public Lectures

‘Reflections on Politics and Violence’ Public Lecture given at Westminster University


‘Gendered Violence in Conflict’ interview with Katherine Millar and Elizabeth Frazer

E-ir Interview with Kimberly Hutchings


Principal Investigators

Dr Elizabeth Frazer

Kimberly Hutchings


Dr Lucy Abbott

Principal Investigators

Dr Elizabeth Frazer

Kimberly Hutchings


John Fell Fund


John Fell Fund

Project Start / End

Sep 2014 - Dec 2015

Project Videos