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Te Ao o Rongomaraeroa | the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies has a research focus on nonviolent conflict.

Our research aims to understand why some social conflicts are prosecuted with largely nonviolent tactics, such as protests, boycotts and strikes, while other social conflicts manifest as violence and war.

We aim to understand why protest movements such as those of the “Arab Spring” emerge, how participants are mobilized in such movements, how protesters respond to repression, and what drives their success or failure.

Follow the links below to explore some of the research that has been done in this area.

Doctoral Projects

Liesel Mitchell

Title: Capturing Nonviolent Discipline: Measuring Commitment in Nonviolent Campaigns

Research Question: How does nonviolent discipline impact the outcome of nonviolent campaigns?

Nonviolent discipline is when protest groups manage to stay nonviolent, even in the face of violent repression. Alongside factors such as unity, organization and leadership, nonviolent discipline has been highlighted as a significant factor in the success of nonviolent campaigns. Although nonviolent discipline is claimed to be important, it remains under-researched. My thesis will address this gap, by developing a measure of nonviolent discipline, which in turn, will form the foundation for quantitative and qualitative analysis of the impact of nonviolent discipline on the success of protest movements.

Joe Llewellyn

Title: Preventing the violence of nonviolence: An exploration of anarcho-pacifism as an antidote to the violence of pragmatic nonviolence and as an alternative approach to creating peaceful societies.

Abstract: In recent years there has been an increased academic interest in understanding the nature of nonviolent movements. This research has concluded that nonviolent movements are more successful, and more likely to result in increased human freedoms, than violent movements. Most of this research has been informed by the 'pragmatic' approach to nonviolent conflict, as originally developed by Gene Sharp, which emphasizes the efficacy of nonviolent tactics in relation to violent tactics. While 'pragmatic nonviolence' has proved successful in overthrowing dictators in many cases, they have not always created nonviolent societies. The aims of this thesis are twofold. Firstly, it will conceptualize and explore principled nonviolence as a practical and usable alternative to pragmatic nonviolence. More specifically it will explore anarcho-pacifist principled nonviolent alternatives, which rejects all forms of violence. The theory/theories developed could then be used rather than pragmatic nonviolence to help safeguard against the formation of violent post-revolution societies. It could also form the basis of a new critical lens to apply to peace and conflict studies. Secondly, the thesis will gather information on how principled-nonviolence and anarcho-pacifism is currently being practiced.

Jonathan Sutton

Title: The Possibilities and Potential of Nonviolence against Juntas, Single-party States and Dear Leaders.

Research question: 'How do civil resistance campaigns leverage power nonviolently against different forms of authoritarian government?'

This includes the sub-questions: 'How does the form of authoritarian government (single party, military or individual) affect this kind of conflict?' and 'Which areas of society are most important for the success of a nonviolent opposition movement?'
Abstract: This project will explore how unarmed civilians using nonviolent tactics are able to leverage different kinds of power against authoritarian governments. Although it has by now been well established that nonviolent conflict can be effective, even against highly-repressive governments, developments since the Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya and especially Syria have shown that this is still a little-understood form of conflict that has the potential to lead to either democratisation, social destabilisation or even devastating civil war. As a result, it is clear that existing theories of how nonviolent conflict works need to be critically re-evaluated and developed.

This research will address these questions by integrating insights and findings from the literatures on social movement theory, authoritarianism and survival, democratic transitions, and other areas of political science into the field of nonviolent action theory. Empirical support will be provided using a mixed-methods approach, including both qualitative analysis of nonviolent conflicts and quantitative testing using existing datasets. At this stage, I predict that there will be support for the propositions that the form of authoritarian government will influence the likelihood of successful nonviolent action; that a small elite group – the 'selectorate' – is the most important target of nonviolent action; and that this will not vary across authoritarian

Postgraduate Thesis Projects


Stephanie Smith: Social Media and Backlash after Severe Government Repression

Ashton Jones: The Success of Online Social Movements in China: A comparison of the Xiamen anti-PX movement (2007) and the Dalian anti-PX movement (2011-2012).


Joe Llewellyn. (2014). Nonviolent Revolutions and Democratization: The effect of state seizure and campaign size on post-revolution democracy. (Thesis, Master of Arts). University of Otago.

Joe Llewellyn (2013) Increasing the Chances of Success? The Impact of Gene Sharp's Theories of Nonviolent Struggle on Nonviolent Revolutionary Movements: A Comparative Study of the Successful 'Otpor' Movement and the Failed 'Zajedno' Movement. (Thesis, Postgraduate Diploma). University of Otago, New Zealand.

Mitchell, L. (2012). Nonviolent Discipline: A Comparative Analysis of Tiananmen Square 1989 and Gwangju 1980 (Thesis, Master of Arts). University of Otago.

Sutton, J. (2012). Nonviolent Tactics and Violent State Repression, 1989-2010: Insights from a global dataset. (Thesis, Master of Arts). University of Otago.

Publications and Working Papers

Charles Butcher and Isak Svensson. (2014) Manufacturing Dissent? Modernization and the Onset of Major Nonviolent Resistance Campaigns. Journal of Conflict Resolution. Published online before Print: July 18 2014 (

Sutton, Jonathan., Charles Butcher and Isak Svensson. (2014) Explaining Political Jujitsu: Institution Building and the Outcomes of Severe Violence against Unarmed Protestors. Journal of Peace Research. 51(5): 559-573

Butcher, Charles and Isak Svensson (2014) "To Arms or To the Streets? Explaining the Choice of Religious Groups between Nonviolent and Violent Insurrection Strategies". Paper Presented at the 110th Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC: August 28-31.

Charles R. Butcher, Elvira Bobekova, John Gray and Liesel Mitchell (2014) Striking it Free? Organized Labor and the Success of Civil Resistance Movements. Paper Presented at the Workshop on “Actors, Strategies and Tactics in Contentious Direct Action”, Peace Research Institute, Oslo May 8-9.

Mitchell, Liesel. (2014). Can We Commit: Explaining Discipline in Nonviolent Movements. Peace Studies Journal, Vol 7, Issue 1

Isak Svensson and Charles Butcher (2013) The Changing Battlefield: Exploring the Trends and Features of Unarmed Rebellions in East Asia. Paper prepared for the East Asian Peace workshop, Uppsala, 26-28 November 2013.

Past Grant Funding

We are thankful to the following organisations that have supported parts of this research:

  • The National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies Trust
  • The University of Otago Humanities Research Grant Scheme
  • The Peace and Disarmament Education Trust
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