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Gene Sharp’s nine types of generic nonviolence

December 9, 2013
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Gene Sharp’s 1959 article, “The Meanings of Non-Violence: A Typology (Revised),” is considered a major work in the study of nonviolence as a means of conflict transformation. Sharp outlined 198 methods of nonviolence in which we can see the different ways nonviolent action is used.


Non-resistant individuals or groups reject all violence on principle whether it be at the local, state, or international level. This type includes religious groups. They do not participate in war or the in state, either by holding office or voting. They pay taxes and meet the expectations of the state as long as it does not contradict what they consider to be their duty to God. Non-resistants are more concerned with being true to their beliefs and resisting evil rather than try to transform society which may be the source of evil or oppression. They do not believe in working to create a better society and may even believe society cannot become good. They seek only to make an impression on society through acts of good will and through leading by example.


This group does practice active good will and reconciliation based on principle. However, this groups does not focus on outward action but instead is concerned with personal reconciliation and self-improvement before seeking to change others. They do not practice coercion, non-violent or otherwise, but hope to convince their opponent. Their focus is on the worth of the individual. This group rejects the use of violence under any circumstance and depends upon the example they set for others and good will to exert influence. Individuals in this group prefer a “quietist approach to social problems, disliking anything akin to ‘agitation’ or ‘trouble’” (Sharp 48). Those in this group may also oppose direct non-violent action.


Those in this group believe that evil should be resisted by peaceful and moral measures as a matter of principle. This group places a strong emphasis on individual moral responsibility with a two-fold obligation to both resist evil and also actively participate in some way against it. Those in this group will engage in direct action and non-violence but first seeks to participate through education, persuasion and individual example. They favor gradual social reform through education and legislation.


The primary aspect of this group is the refusal to participate in violent action, particularly international warfare. However, in certain other situations those in this group may be willing to engage in violence to accomplish goals. Individuals, organizations, and groups under this type will object to participating to violence in certain situations and perhaps view certain instances of violence as the collective actions of many evil agencies all equally guilty. Antiwar anarchist would fall into this group. So would any group that would advocate using violence to bring in a utopian condition. Individuals who reject participating in wars because they reject the authority of the government but not necessarily to violence itself would also come under this type.


Passive resistance is a means of conducting conflict to subvert or bring about social, political, or economic change. Those in this group prefer passive resistance over violence but not on principle. Those in this group prefer this method because they lack violent means or do not believe such methods would be successful. Passive resistance may be used along with violent means or in preparation for it. Passive resistance is the reaction towards an opponent. Emotions in this group may be that of hatred. This group is not concerned with moral character, spiritual goals, or a way of life. They are concerned with confronting what they perceive to be a social evil. Passive resistance may be conducted at the local, state or international level and includes strikes, boycotts, and non-cooperation.


Peaceful resistance is a means of conducting conflict to subvert or bring about social, political, or economic change. Unlike in passive resistance efforts, those in peaceful resistance will view non-violence as being better than violence. Those in this group will engage in peaceful resistance for the duration of the preoccupying struggle. Those in this group will view non-violence as being more likely to bring about the desired change than violence, reliance on government, or verbal persuasion. Those in this group may view non-violence as a more democratic means to bring about change. They will also insist on the moral superiority of non-violence which will they will use increase the fervency and support for their struggle.


Non-violent direct action is a means of conducting conflict to subvert or bring about social, political, or economic change through the use of direct intervention with the goal of developing new policies or interfering with those deemed to be evil. Those in this group will invest in non-violent action as a moral principle and engage in non-violent action for the duration of the struggle. Intervention is designed to bring about some degree of change, values, or policy. Enacting a curriculum of direct non-violence will follow an investigation into a policy regarded as evil, a discussion with the erring party, as well as as publicity campaigns on the subject.


Satyagraha means “adherence to the Truth” or “reliance on Truth” and was developed by Mohandas K. Gandhi. Those who adhere to Satyahraha do so with the goal of “attaining Truth through love and right actions” (Sharp 58). A Satyagrahi’s quest is to improve his own life with the goal of bringing no harm to others. Those in the group align themselves with combatting evil through good; a way of living, constructive work, and action against that which is deemed evil. She or he will not compromise on moral issues and will continue bravely in her or his quest despite the odds. She or he “believes the means and ends must be equally pure” (Sharp 58). It is through one’s internal strength that one is greater than the disorder that surrounds. Sharp states that Gandhi believed that one’s “inner conviction was more effective that non-violence practiced as a temporary policy” (58).


Those in the group believe that problems imposed by society are deep in the roots of the existing social order and require change by individuals and society. Those advocating on this position agree with the need to real change in individual’s lives, that society must adapt the values of non-violence, justice, equality, and cooperation, in the need for a decentralized society, and in confronting social evils through non-violence and direct action. Some advocate more for changes in government, policies, and institutions, while others advocate more for a change in values in society.

The reason we should think of non-violence more in terms of conflict transformation is because direct non-violence transforms the nature of the conflict. It seems to undermine the power of the opposition. This can be psychologically, as in Gandhi’s hunger strike or monetarily as in boycotts and worker strikes. Direct non-violent actions has the ability to influence direct change on the process of the conflict, transforming the conflicts trajectory and bringing the conflict into a different path for a changed discussion on the issues as well as how the conflict is perceived.


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