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When Yelling Isn't Good Enough: Riots and Non-Nonviolent Civil Resistance

Case, Benjamin (2020) When Yelling Isn't Good Enough: Riots and Non-Nonviolent Civil Resistance. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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We are in a moment of uprisings. Considering the more contentious protest moments from previous years, it is evident that the repertoire of tactics in contemporary social movements includes unarmed, low-level collective violence in the form of property destruction, street barricades, thrown projectiles, and unarmed physical resistance to police repression. Analytically, however, we have been trapped in a false dichotomy of violence/nonviolence that flattens unarmed movements into the concept of nonviolent struggle, erasing the salience of protester violence and foreclosing a holistic understanding of contentious movements. This dissertation confronts this problem head on. First, I unpack and analyze the theoretical foundations of strategic nonviolence, which has become the dominant framework in movement analyses, and demonstrate its considerable limitations. Next, I confront the most prominent empirical research on nonviolent conflict. Current studies that claim to find a demobilizing effect of violent tactics rely on weak data that does not speak to the question at hand, as well as on a violence/nonviolence binary that obscures the effects of low-level violent actions. Through statistical analysis of protest trends in the US and South Africa over 72 years, I show that riots in these countries have had an overall mobilizing impact on nonviolent protests. I go on to examine the phenomenological effects of protester violence through qualitative interview studies with activists from the US and South Africa who have participated in physically transgressive protest actions. Activist experiences indicate that many participants feel a contentious form of collective effervescence and a heightened sense of empowerment amidst low-level violent actions, with long-term effects that raise consciousness and deepen and sustain activists’ resolve. Overall, I argue for a more holistic approach to studying the contentious dynamics of social change from below which incorporates the material and experiential effects of unarmed collective violence into analyses of social movements.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Case, Benjaminbsc28@pitt.edubsc28
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMarkoff, Johnjm2@pitt.edujm2
Committee MemberBamyeh, Mohammedmab205@pitt.edumab205
Committee MemberGoodhart, Michaelgoodhart@pitt.edugoodhart
Committee MemberBanerjee, Taruntarunbanerjee@pitt.edutarunbanerjee
Date: 16 September 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 3 August 2020
Approval Date: 16 September 2020
Submission Date: 6 August 2020
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 238
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Sociology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Social movements, protest, riots, nonviolence, violence, revolutions, crowds, anarchists
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2020 13:34
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2022 05:15


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