Theories of Nonviolence

  • Daniel M. MaytonII
Part of the Peace Psychology Book Series book series (PPBS)


The role of sound theory is vital in psychology and within all fields in the social sciences. A good theory puts forth conjectures about causal relationships and causal inferences in coherent, parsimonious, and general terms that are falsifiable (Fiske, 2004). An important function of theory is to derive hypotheses that direct research and advancing knowledge within a field. Therefore, if our understanding of nonviolence and nonviolent action is to move forward, theories of nonviolence are crucial.

McCarthy and Kruegler (1993) make a strong case for good theory building and productive research to advance our understanding of nonviolent action. They stress that the study of nonviolent action needs theories that suggest productive research questions. These important research questions should focus the attention of researchers to the significant variables within the context of a nonviolent action or conflict in which nonviolent responses are being considered. McCarthy and Kruegler believe “that research will be most fruitful when focused on nonviolent action as purposive behavior in conflicts and on the problems and possibilities that nonviolent action raises for actors in conflicts (p. 2).” They also encourage researchers to use data sources not previously utilized. In addition, they underscore that the use of good theories will permit researchers of nonviolence to abandon unproductive avenues of research.


Social Defense Civil Disobedience Structural Violence Conscientious Objector Direct Violence 
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Recommended Readings

  1. Ackerman, P., & Kruegler, C. (1994). Strategic nonviolent conflict: The dynamics of people power in the twentieth century. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.Google Scholar
  2. Ackerman and Kreugler present a comprehensive interpretation of nonviolence as political strategy. The authors develop a concrete theory of nonviolent strategic action and investigate how the principles derived from their theory apply to six historical episodes.Google Scholar
  3. Bondurant, J. V. (1965). Conquest of violence: The Gandhian philosophy of conflict (Rev. ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  4. This is a classic text summarizing the philosophy and the political strategy of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Bondurant’s analysis may be the best explication of Gandhi’s work into a “theory of nonviolence” available to date.Google Scholar
  5. Burrowes, R. J. (1996). The strategy of nonviolent defense: A Gandhian approach. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  6. This book presents a strong case for Burrowes’ comprehensive theory of nonviolent defense. Burrowes gives a nice summary of strategy theories, need theories, and conflict theories and then elaborates how these are applied to develop his theory of nonviolent defense.Google Scholar
  7. Hare, A. P., & Blumberg, H. H. (1968). Nonviolent direct action: American cases-social psychological analysis. Washington CD: Corpus Books.Google Scholar
  8. This book has pulled together a large number of previously published articles on nonviolence in sociological and psychological journals and has added some new selections. While this book was published nearly four decades ago, it does a good job analyzing the civil rights movement in the United States as it was happening.Google Scholar
  9. Holmes, R. L., & Gan, B. L. (Eds.). (2005). Nonviolence in theory and practice (2nd ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.Google Scholar
  10. This is the revised edition of a book of readings that addresses the origins of pacifism and nonviolence from secular and nonsecular perspectives. Holmes and Gan carefully examine the work of Tolstoy, Gandhi, and King and the impact of women in the field of nonviolence. This book also describes a wide range of nonviolent actions that have been used in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe, as well as, North America.Google Scholar
  11. Kool, K. K. (Ed.). (1990). Perspectives on nonviolence. New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  12. This book is a compilation of papers presented at a symposium on nonviolence at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire in 1988. The papers address the psychological, sociological, philosophical, social work, political, and historical perspectives of nonviolence. Kool develops his early ideas about nonviolent personality.Google Scholar
  13. Kool, V. K. (Ed.). (1993a). Nonviolence: Social and psychological issues. New York: University Press of America, Inc.Google Scholar
  14. This book is a compilation of papers that were presented at a symposium convened by Kool at SUNY, Utica in 1992. The papers span a wide range of issues related to nonviolence with a strong psychological emphasis. Kool describes his theory of nonviolence in this volume.Google Scholar
  15. McCarthy, R. M., & Kruegler, C. (1993). Toward research and theory building in the study of nonviolent action. (Monograph Series Number 7) Cambridge, MA: The Albert Einstein Institute.Google Scholar
  16. This monograph outlines the importance of developing theories of nonviolence and the need for more careful research in the field of nonviolence. While the authors do not recommend a specific research agenda that should be completed, they do provide guidance as to how a sound knowledge base might be generated by testing theory and by addressing a range of variables relevant to nonviolent action.Google Scholar
  17. Pelton, L. H. (1974). The psychology of nonviolence. New York: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  18. Pelton’s book is one of the first to relate mainstream concepts in psychology to nonviolence, nonviolent protest, noncooperation, and reconciliation. He specifically explains how the cognitive dynamics of nonviolence including values, cognitive consistency, and cognitive structure are relevant to nonviolent action. He also relates nonviolence to the roles of power and information.Google Scholar
  19. Sharp, G. (1985). National security through civilian-based defense. Omaha, NE: Association for Transarmament Studies.Google Scholar
  20. Originally published in 1970, this volume summarizes the concept of civilian-based defense by one of its primary supporters. Gene Sharp provides a strong rationale for the use of this security strategy during the cold was, however, the implications of this practice in today’s world can be extrapolated.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel M. MaytonII
    • 1
  1. 1.Lewis-Clark State CollegeLewistonUSA

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