Pacifism and Nonviolence
Endorsed by the ECPR Standing Group on Critical Peace and Conflict Studies
Pacifism is often dismissed as naïve or even dangerous, yet its critics rarely engage with the rich and diverse range of nuanced arguments put forward by its proponents – hence Jackson’s diagnosis of pacifism as ‘subjugated’ among scholars of politics and IR (Jackson 2018).
Nonviolence has its critics, too (including that it is too weak, ineffective, or for the privileged), yet it has grown in popularity since the early twentieth century, and some research has demonstrated its potential effectiveness (Chenoweth and Stephan 2011).
But pacifism and nonviolence share more than just the characteristic of often being dismissed: even though they have separable foci and origins, they share important similarities (such as their dualistic opposition to violence or their critical questioning of the means/ends dichotomy), and their respective histories are mutually imbricated.
In the academy, both pacifism and nonviolence have been attracting growing scholarly interest since the turn of the twenty-first century. However, that scholarship has tended to be scattered in disparate sub-disciplinary debates and specialist publications. Moreover, many important questions and themes around pacifism and nonviolence remain underexplored. These include:
▪️ the varieties of approaches to nonviolence and pacifism
▪️ accusations against pacifism
▪️ tensions between pacifism and nonviolence
▪️ theories and practices outside the Global North
▪️ the multiple consequences of violence
▪️ violence and nonviolence in political thought
▪️ the relationship between violence/nonviolence and gender, race, and other social identities
▪️ the religious roots of pacifism and nonviolence
▪️ the place of violence and nonviolence in popular culture
▪️ practical nonviolent policies of governance
▪️ predominant assumptions concerning violence in IR
▪️ the threshold characteristics of ‘violence’
▪️ methodological challenges in the study and pedagogy of nonviolence and pacifism.
The aim of this Section is to coordinate research on some of these pressing topics, using approaches either more theoretical or more empirical, small- or large-scale, and in general using any of the accepted methodologies in the field.
Contributions might be rooted, for example, in European studies, feminism and gender studies, peace and conflict studies, political theory, resistance studies, social movement studies, or terrorism studies. The exact composition and thematic overview of Panels will depend on the Paper proposals received, but an indicative thematic breakdown might include the following:
Chair: Olena Nikolayenko, Fordham University
Pacifism and nonviolence: lessons from case studies
This might cover analysis of the range of pacifist positions and approaches to nonviolence in both theory and practice, critical reflections on case studies (small or large), reflections on influential activists or social movements, presentations of overlooked historiographies (especially from the Global South), and/or critical reflections on the effectiveness of different tactics.
Chair: Aitor Díaz Anabitarte, Universitat de Barcelona
Pacifism and nonviolence: confronting the critics
This might cover critical discussion of accusations against pacifism (that it reinforces the status quo, that it is primarily white and middle-class, that it cannot be sustained in the most challenging scenarios), and/or of tensions between pacifism (especially as an ethical position) and nonviolence (as a form of political action).
Chair: Alexei Anisin, Anglo-American University in Prague
Pacifism and nonviolence in the history of political thought
This might include Papers on the place of violence and nonviolence in the arguments of core thinkers (e.g., Arendt, Bourdieu, Butler, Gandhi, Hobbes, Kant, Schmidt, Tolstoy) or indeed marginalised ones, as well as in political ideologies (e.g., anarchism, fascism, feminism, liberalism), in some of their principal concepts (e.g., colonialism, democracy, masculinity, prefiguration, sovereignty, utopia), and in relation to themes examined in cognate scholarship (e.g., emotions, identity, technology, temporality).
Chair: Oliver Richmond, University of Manchester
Pacifism and violence in International Relations
This might include analysis of the historical ‘subjugation’ of pacifism in IR, and on the potential for pacifism and nonviolence to inform a review of predominant assumptions in IR theory and practice about terrorism, the international order, and ‘just war’ theory, for example.
Chair: Claudio Radaelli, European University Institute
Nonviolent approaches to governance
This might include discussion on the potential for nonviolent policies of governance (such as in public-order maintenance, policing, crime-management, and counter-terrorism), nonviolent practices of protection (such as unarmed civilian protection and zones of peace), and practical proposals away from institutions that rely on violence (such as ‘trans-armament’, demilitarisation, and nonviolent civilian-based defence).
Chair: Zulfia Abawe, University of South Wales
When pacifism and nonviolence intersect with race and gender
This might include explorations, for example, of how racism and patriarchy may be tied to the legitimation of violence and how racial and gender identities, norms, and/or privilege intersect with the practice and strategy of nonviolent action.
Chair: Javier Argomaniz, University of St Andrews
Pacifism, violence and nonviolence in popular culture
This might include Papers on the role of violence in popular culture past and present, on the lukewarm reception of pacifist ideas among the broader public, and on the interests this serves.
Whichever the methodological angle, a rich variety of probing research questions lays on the horizon once one looks past simplistic caricatures and dismissals of pacifism and nonviolence. It is high time that scholarship on these issues is nurtured in order for its applications to benefit both the academy and wider society.