Summary of "Methods of Nonviolent Action"

Summary of

Methods of Nonviolent Action

By Gene Sharp

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Gene Sharp. Methods of Nonviolent Action. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973, 339 pp.

The Methods of Nonviolent Action describes nearly two-hundred specific methods of nonviolent action.

The Methods of Nonviolent Action will be of interest to those seeking specific methods of nonviolent action and resistance. This is the second volume in Sharp's three volume series, The Politics of Nonviolent Action. This work is divided into six chapters, with an introduction. In his Introduction Sharp observes that "nonviolent action is designed to operate against opponents who are able and willing to use violent sanctions."[109] Nonviolent resistance puts the violent opponent in a double-bind. If the opponent fails to repress the nonviolent actors, that undermines the opponents position. If the opponent uses violent repression against nonviolent resistors, this will increase sympathy with the resistors and hence undermine the opponents position. Achieving this effect requires "an extensive, determined and skillful application of nonviolent action."[110] Subsequent chapters detail various nonviolent methods of action. Sharp classifies nonviolent actions into three general categories: protest or persuasion, noncooperation, and intervention.

The opening chapter surveys methods of nonviolent protest or persuasion. Here Sharp describes more than fifty specific methods, grouped loosely under ten headings. Formal statements includes public speeches, petitions and letter of support or opposition. Methods for communicating with a wider audience range from use of banners, leaflets, and posters to skywriting, radio and television. Groups may engage in picketing, lobbying or may stage mock awards or elections. A wide array of symbolic public acts is described. Methods for pressuring individuals include vigils and "haunting" officials. Suggestions for using drama, music and processions are made. Funerals, both real and mock, provide opportunities for nonviolent protest. Finally, both holding public assemblies, and public withdrawal or renunciation, can be effective nonviolent actions.

The next four chapters discuss methods of nonviolent noncooperation. Sharp first describes methods of social noncooperation. Techniques include ostracism of various persons. Social noncooperation may extend to events, institutions or customs, for example by suspending sports activities. Finally noncooperation may involve withdrawal from the social system, whether by simply staying at home, or emigrating in protest. Sharp devotes two chapters to economic noncooperation, starting with boycotts. Noncooperation in the form of boycotting can occur at a variety of levels. Sharp discusses boycotts by consumers, by workers and producers, by middlemen, by owners and managers, by those who hold financial resources, and finally by the government via embargoes. A second method of economic noncooperation is the strike. Strikes may be primarily symbolic, such as lightening strikes. They can be used effectively by non-industrial groups such as agricultural workers, professionals, and prisoners. A variety of industrial strike methods are described, including sympathy strikes, slowdowns, and work-to-rule strikes. General strikes are multi-industry strikes. When general strikes are combined with boycotts, economic shutdown may ensue. Finally, nonviolent actors may engage in political noncooperation. Nonviolent actors may reject political authority by withdrawing allegiance support. Citizens' noncooperation with government may take the form of boycotting elections, government agencies, or legislatures. Citizens' alternatives to obedience include slow obedience, disguised disobedience, and civil disobedience. Government personnel may themselves refuse political cooperation by blocking chains of command and blocking information, by administrative slowdowns, by refusing to cooperate with specific government agencies, or by judicial noncooperation. Particular units of government may refuse to cooperate with each other or the government at large. International governmental actions include withholding or withdrawing diplomatic recognition, and actions through international organizations.

The last chapter of this volume discusses methods of nonviolent intervention. Such interventions may be psychological, physical, social, economic or political. An example of psychological intervention is the fast or hunger strike. Physical interventions include sit-ins and a variety of other "-ins." Methods of social intervention include overloading facilities, guerrilla theater, and establishing alternative social institutions. Economic interventions may take such forms as reverse strikes and stay-in strikes, counterfeiting, selective patronage and the use of alternative economic systems. Political intervention can occur via overloading administrative systems, identifying secret agents, or establishing a parallel government.

The Methods of Nonviolent Action will serve as a valuable resource for those interested in nonviolent action. The many techniques of nonviolent action are clearly organized, individually discussed and illustrated with historical examples.