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Manufacturing Dissent: Modernization and the Surge of Nonviolent Resistance


Many studies have focused on the conditions that contribute to successful nonviolent resistance campaigns, but few analyze the reasons or events that cause these campaigns to emerge. This study provides insight into some of the possible explanations for the increase of nonviolent campaigns around the world, mainly pointing to the influence of economic modernization.

The authors argue that the advancement of modern economic sectors, such as manufacturing, provide the opportunity and leverage for citizens to voice their dissatisfaction through nonviolent means. The research shows a direct link between the proportion of a country’s manufacturing industry of their GDP and an increase of nonviolent resistance campaigns. Additionally, the likelihood of nonviolent movements rise with the rate social networks are integrated with the country’s economy. Extensive social networks are more likely to be present in states with high levels of manufacturing, which in turn increase the likelihood of nonviolent movements.

To test their hypotheses, the authors examine major violent and nonviolent campaigns around the world between 1960 and 2009. They compare the campaigns’ tactics (violent or nonviolent) with the countries manufacturing industry as a percentage of GDP.

The authors suggest that manufacturing is closely linked to the trend of urban migration, which brings together people of diverse geographic, social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Organized labor, as a product of the manufacturing industry, emerges as a link between these diverse urban communities, creating extensive social networks to which the economy becomes dependent upon. The authors also suggest that violence is more likely to occur in countries lacking extensive social networks integrated in their economy. This view disagrees with past research that has suggested social conflicts arise from modernization, by arguing that modernization is actually a positive force as it facilitates nonviolent resistance as opposed to violent tactics.

The research findings support the authors’ hypotheses, concluding that the larger the proportion of manufacturing in a country’s GDP, the more likely civil resistance movements will be nonviolent. Also, when other modernization indicators such as infant mortality rates and access to education are taken into consideration, it becomes even more evident that social conflict tends to become nonviolent as states modernize. However, these findings were less pronounced in Africa where poverty and discrimination are more likely to lead to violence, suggesting that countries with a large middle class are not as likely to experience civil war as less affluent countries.

 Contemporary Relevance:

Economic sectors such as manufacturing can play an important role in building bridges within a society and encouraging grievances to be addressed through nonviolent means. 

This research influences controversial topics regarding consequences from the spread of globalization and democratization. The more insight we have pointing to these trends ability to foster nonviolent resistance, the more likely they are to become a positive rather than negative force in the developing world. The connections between development and peace are now firmly supported by a strong body of social science research (Cortright, 2016).

Talking Points:

  • Manufacturing enables the creation of interconnected social networks by bringing together groups of people with diverse backgrounds.
  • An increase in manufacturing increases the likelihood of nonviolent resistance campaigns.
  • As countries continue to modernize, social conflict is more likely to become nonviolent.
  • Countries with a larger percentage of their GDP from the manufacturing industry are more likely to experience nonviolent conflict than violent conflict.
  • Organized labor bridges social divides, allowing for mass mobilization and nonviolent collective action utilizing economically derived leverage as a means of social resistance 

Practical Implications:

Economic sectors such as manufacturing can play an important role in building bridges within a society and encouraging grievances to be addressed through nonviolent means. However, countries with the weakest economies are poised to benefit from this research the most. When this study looked at developing regions in Africa, even in poor, authoritarian states, the slightest increase in manufacturing translated into an increase in the likelihood of nonviolent resistance by roughly 15% and a decrease in the likelihood of civil war onset.

The authors link extensive social networks to nonviolent movements and intensive social networks to violent ones. Intensive social networks tend to be comprised of economically isolated and often poor, marginalized ethnic groups, characteristics that increase the likelihood of these networks addressing their grievances through violence rather than nonviolence. Practitioners, whether through NGOs, labor movement leaders, or social movement leaders and participants, can benefit from reaching out to connect and integrate isolated groups with the economy. This research suggests that these efforts would greatly enhance the likelihood, participation and effectiveness of nonviolent movements and minimize the risk of conflict between groups of different social networks.

***If we include the ethnic groups and political exclusion article in this issue, then parallels could be drawn between the ISNs and the inclination to violence and the exclusion of ethnic groups that the other article focuses on.

Continued Reading

Linking Development and Peace: The Empirical Evidence

10 Things to Know about Nonviolent Struggle


Butcher, C., & Svensson, I. (2016). Manufacturing dissent. Modernization and the onset of major nonviolent resistance campaigns. Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 60(2) 311-339.

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