Sean Chabot Talk: Nonviolent resistance beyond the single story

Sean Chabot
September 10, 2019 - 4:00pm to 6:00pm
Integrated Science Building Room 145, UMass Amherst, USA

Resistance Studies Initiative Fall Speaker Series: 
Distinguished researchers and activists share critical reflections on resistance issues.

Sean Chabot is Professor of Sociology at Eastern Washington University and book review editor of the Journal of Resistance Studies.  His book, Transnational Roots of the Civil Rights Movement (2012), discusses the Gandhian repertoire's transnational journey from the Indian independence movement to the Black liberation movement in the United States.  He has also published on the gay and lesbian movement, Brazilian landless movement (MST), Iran's Green Movement, the Egyptian uprising, and revolutionary love, among other subjects related to resistance.  His current projects focus on decolonizing resistance (with Stellan Vinthagen) and counter-stories of nonviolent resistance beyond the strategic paradigm.

Abstract: The field of nonviolent resistance studies is facing the danger of what novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls a "single story."  Single stories normalize dominant ways of knowing, while limiting the imagination and possibilities of people in marginalized communities. Chabot will argue that the strategic repertoire of nonviolent resistance is grounded in such a single story.  It asserts that unarmed struggles are most effective if they follow the same strategic logic as corporations and military forces: unity of movement leadership and purpose, systematic planning of nonviolent campaigns, and disciplined behavior during nonviolent actions.  This dominant narrative is popular and persuasive, but also relies on one-dimensional concepts of violence and nonviolence, and Western forms of capitalist liberal democracy as ideal.

Building on Stellan Vinthagen’s theory, Chabot will show that the strategic repertoire focuses on one form of “against violence” (against violent non-democratic regimes) and one form of “without violence” (nonviolent methods by popular movements against non-democratic regimes), while ignoring the continuum of direct, structural, and cultural violence associated with capitalist liberal democracy.  The strategic repertoire’s single story therefore hides other ways of thinking about violence and nonviolence, and underestimates the complex entanglements of violence and nonviolence.  He will use Michel Foucault’s concepts of “regime of truth” (established knowledge produced by power struggles) and “subjugated knowledges” (knowledges buried or disqualified by the regime of truth) for further insights into the danger of the single story on nonviolent resistance.

Foucault suggests that “universal intellectuals” seek to represent the global interests of humanity as a whole, while “specific intellectuals” work toward “the insurrection of subjugated knowledges" by revealing particular counter-stories of marginalized ways of life.  Leading scholars such as Sharp and Chenoweth serve as Foucault’s “universal intellectuals,” propagating strategic nonviolent resistance as global antidote against dictatorial regimes and recipe for building capitalist liberal democracy.  Chabot tries to think and act like a “specific intellectual” who carefully listens to and learns from counter-stories of marginalized nonviolent resistance repertoires.

After briefly describing the strategic repertoire of nonviolent resistance, he will shift attention to two subjugated knowledges. First  the glorified yet distorted Gandhian repertoire will be discussedthen turning to the emerging commoning repertoire that most do not perceive as nonviolent resistance.  Here, commoning refers to communal living that prefigures post-capitalist, post-liberal, and pluriversal modes of sharing resources, self-government, and trans-local politics.  Examples of popular movements experimenting with the commoning repertoire include the Zapatistas in Mexico, Abahlali shackdwellers in South Africa, and prison abolitionists in the United States.    

To highlight what makes the Gandhian and the commoning repertoire different, Chabot will add a third dimension to Stellan’s concept of nonviolence as against and without violence: beyond violence.  Gandhian and commoning communities realize that violence and nonviolence are always entangled, and that no form of nonviolent resistance can ever fully escape the continuum of violence.  But they also recognize that the potential for less violent and more humanizing interactions is endless.  For Gandhian and commoning activists, therefore, nonviolent resistance implies resistance against-without-and-beyond violence as a holistic way of life.

Refreshments will be served
Open to all

View video
View powerpoint presentation
View series poster



RSI Sponsored: 

RSI Event