Situational Influences on Nonviolent Action

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


While holding personal beliefs in support of nonviolent behavior is very important, any analysis of nonviolence requires the careful consideration of the situational constraints from the micro- through the macro-level. This analysis will incorporate the framework of Ross and Nisbett (1991), which builds on the powerful and pioneering work of Kurt Lewin and casts light on many causes of social behavior. From Ross and Nisbett’s perspective, social behavior is a function of three variables: (1) the nature of the situation, (2) the way individuals construe the situation, and (3) the dynamic systems of tension across levels of human experience from individual psyches, through small groups, to national levels.

Accordingly, this chapter is organized around these three dimensions. The first dimension, the situation, involves the social reality surrounding a person or group, as well as, the actual grievance that is to be addressed by the nonviolent action itself. The nature of grievances may be categorized according to the human rights, needs, or values that are violated or frustrated and thereby activating nonviolent political action. While Ross and Nisbett (1991) note the influence of early behaviorists like John Watson in focusing on the importance of the situation in determining behavior, the behaviorist position, unfortunately, did not adequately attend to the next two aspects of the situation. The second dimension involves the psychological factors that affect the construal processes and refers to the ways in which individuals engaged in nonviolent action interpret and understand the situation within which they are embedded. The third dimension involves the tension system and it encompasses the organizational, group, and individual tensions with which individuals engaged in nonviolent action are confronting. This dimension also reflects conflicting norms and personal values in addition to their cultural and national values (Schwartz, 1990).


Revolving Door Death Anxiety Tension System Mortality Salience Fate Control 

Recommended Readings

  1. Pilisuk, M. (2008). Who benefits from global violence and war: Uncovering a destructive system. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International.Google Scholar
  2. Marc Pilisuk has written an in-depth analysis of the people and corporations that have profited and continue to profit from war. Based on a long standing concern, Pilisuk shows us the painful costs of war and globalization today as he documents many players in the military-industrial complex as well as many in what he refers to as the “elite clubs” that build, maintain, and wield networks of power. Pilisuk ends by addressing the values inherent in the Western worldview and argues why these need our attention.Google Scholar
  3. Pyszczynski T., Solomon, S., & Greenberg, J. (2002). In the wake of 9/11: The psychology of terror. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  4. This book by the major architects of TMT provides a clear and in depth description of this fresh theory. Pyszczynski et al. summarize a large amount of the research on TMT conducted up to 2001 in an easily accessible way. In addition to their explanation of TMT the authors use the theory to address issues of terrorism, responses to terrorism, and possible methods to bring the world closer to a peaceful existence. Highly recommended place to start to learn about this important theory.Google Scholar
  5. Ross, L. & Nisbett, R. E. (1991). The person and the situation: Perspectives of social psychology. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  6. This book outlines the ways in which the situation is so powerful in determining social behavior. Ross and Nesbitt draw on many classic experiments in social psychology to show how the nature of the situation, the way individuals construe the situation, and the systems of tension across levels of human experience all work in a dynamic way to influence human behavior. The authors do a nice job weaving classic social psychological theories with more contemporary approaches in this very readable text.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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