A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Terrorism expert discusses new research during START Seminar

Terrorism scholar and START researcher Erica Chenoweth visited the University of Maryland last week to discuss her new book, "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict," as part of the START Seminar Series.


Chenoweth's book, co-authored by Maria Stephan, analyzes how and why civil resistance movements are more effective than violent campaigns.

"Nonviolent campaigns were more than twice as successful in reaching their goals," Chenoweth says. "The trend is increasing over time, especially since 1980."

Chenoweth describes civil resistance to be "unarmed civilians who are actively prosecuting a conflict using nonviolent strategies, such as boycotts or protests." She makes a clear distinction that civil resistance does not use violence, or the threat of violence, against its opponents.

To support her idea, Chenoweth began collecting data on nonviolent and violent campaigns. She compared 323 major campaigns from 1990 to 2006 and found three common war goals: want for regime change, territorial succession and anti-occupation of a foreign military.

After further analysis, she found civil resistance campaigns were more successful because there were:

  • Higher levels and opportunities for participation, which makes more diverse tactics available;
  • Lower moral barriers because people are not forced to use violence;
  • Lower informational barriers because people were able to see how many participants were involved in the campaign, compared to underground movements; and
  • Lesser degrees of commitment. People involved in violent campaigns usually dedicate a majority of their life, while people in nonviolent campaigns have the option to withdraw.

"Even when violence works, it is so damaging to societies it is hardly worth it," said Chenoweth. Although, she points out both nonviolent and violent campaigns are not always effective. Chenoweth plans to extend her research in nonviolent campaigns.

To learn more about her new book or to purchase it, visit here.

Chenoweth is an assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University and the founder and director of the university's Program on Terrorism and Insurgency Research. She is a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkley and Stanford University. Chenoweth is currently researching ethno-nationalist terrorist groups operating in the Middle East and North Africa to include in START's Global Terrorism Database (GTD).