Academics and Research / News

Korbel professor honored for book on civil resistance

Erica Chenoweth, a professor in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is one of the recipients of the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

The American Political Science Association has selected Erica Chenoweth, a professor in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, and her co-author, Maria Stephan of the U.S. State Department, as the recipients of the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award for their book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press). The Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award is given annually for the best book on government, politics or international affairs published in the U.S. during the previous calendar year.

In November, Chenoweth and Stephan won the 2013 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. The two will share the $100,000 prize.

Why Civil Resistance Works examines whether violent or nonviolent resistance methods are superior in producing short- and long-term political change.

Based on a data set of more than 300 major nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006, the book combines a number of quantitative tests as well as four comparative case studies of failed and successful nonviolent campaigns in the Palestinian Territories, Iran, the Philippines, and Burma.

The book finds that nonviolent resistance is more than twice as successful as violent resistance, even in the face of brutal regime repression. Moreover, countries that have experienced nonviolent uprisings are much more likely to emerge from the conflicts democratic and with a lower risk of civil war relapse than countries that have experienced violent insurgencies.

The book challenges the common claim by insurgents that violent resistance is necessary and fruitful as an avenue of political change, while vindicating the common claim by many activists that nonviolent resistance is a superior strategic choice.

According to the book’s findings, in most cases where violent insurgency has occurred, a well-executed nonviolent campaign may have been equally as successful. And in most places where nonviolent resistance is impossible (as in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, for example), violent resistance does not perform any better.

“It turns out that, on average, nonviolent campaigns tend to attract far more participants than their violent counterparts,” Chenoweth told Eric Stoner of the Waging Nonviolence website. “This allows nonviolent campaigns to create or exploit cracks within the regime’s pillars of support. Such cracks are difficult to create without mass mobilization with unarmed civilians, who simultaneously demonstrate their commitment, their noncooperation with the existing order and their disinterest in physically harming those whom they oppose. In addition to imposing serious economic, political and social costs on those who resist the movement’s demands, civil resistance is also a form of psychological warfare — and a rather effective one at that.”

The Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award is the latest accolade to be bestowed on Why Civil Resistance Works. Since the book was released in July 2011, it has been recognized as a seminal work in the field of civil resistance, with a unique appeal to academics, activists and policymakers alike. Steven Pinker named Why Civil Resistance Works one of the best books of 2011 at The Guardian, and Sir Adam Roberts, head of the British Academy, identified it as among the top five books on civil resistance at The Browser.

The article version of the argument, which was published in International Security in 2008, is now among the top 10 most downloaded articles in the journal’s history.


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