Means and Ends in Peace Research

By Jørgen Johansen and Håkan Kellgren

Originally published in xxx


“Peace research concentrates on the question of violence. In particular, it has come to focus on organised violence on societal conflicts.” (Wallensten, 1988).


In the literature the most used term for such conflicts are «war». War has been defined in various ways but most of the definitions have in common that they describe war as an armed conflict with a number of deaths. The disagreement are more around the number and how to count the deaths than the much more interesting and important part of the definitions, namely the almost universal view that war is a form of conflict.

Most of the researches on large-scale conflicts are focused on armed ones. Wars have been studied from a large number of perspectives since the first works in this field were published. The tradition from Richardson and Wright have dominated the majority of this particular tradition of research ever since.

The Swedish research institutions have not been unique in this respect. SIPRI have focused on the arms; their effects, costs, trade and negotiations of reductions. The well known peace research from Uppsala is the project of counting armed conflicts based on the number of killings on the battlefield (Wallensten & Sollenberg, 1998).

Other research projects counts the number of deaths related to the conflict. Patric Brogan (Brogan1998) in his large work World Conflicts tries to cover most armed conflicts with deadly casualties. The An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Conflict and Conflict Resolution, 1945-1996 (Jessup 1998) includes not only wars but assassinations, coups, insurgencies, terrorism, massacres and genocides. Others have different ways of classifying the conflicts, but they all have in common that they focus on the conflicts where violent means dominate.

When war is defined as a conflict then the definition in itself creates a number of difficulties for the handling, or management, of the conflict. A conflict is a complex social, and often political, process and includes a number of component which needs to be studied separately both in order to understand the conflict and in order to deal with it. Keltner (1994) identifies four main elements in a conflict:

  • The means used to influence the conflict
  • The questions the disagree about
  • The relations between the parties
  • The aims or possible outcomes.

Each of these elements are of course in themselves complex entities. To use the term «war» for the whole concept will make it difficult to identify both the different elements and, more important, the range of other options than armed means in the conflict. First of all we will argue that to define war as a type of conflict reduces the possibilities to study other options than armed means in order to influence the conflict. In other words: If you define war as a type of conflict then you predefine the means to be used in the conflict. War is of course only one of a wide spectra of means which are available for those who are engaged in large scale societal conflicts. Going back to Keltner (1994) we want to stress that conflicts with identical questions to disagree about, with identical relations between parties and with identical aims can be influenced (or solved) by a wide range of different means. Below we will shortly describe two different sets of means used in large scale societal conflicts and make some proposals for future studies in the field of Peace- and Development Studies.

Nonviolent Revolutions

In the following we will try to illustrate some of the possible misunderstandings resulting from the definition of «war» as an armed conflict. We will use the examples of Poland in the eighties, the People Power revolution in Philippines in 1986  and the “velvet revolution” in Czechoslovakia 1989 and compare them with some of the civil wars in we have seen in last decades. In all cases the disagreement was about the political control of the territory.

The Solidarity movement in Poland did not accept the present government and their policy. The relation between the parties was more than hostile. The opposition in Poland had a long and violent history of struggle against the political leadership in their country. The Solidarity movement in Poland choose in 1980 to try with nonviolent means to achieve their aim. After many decades of armed upraising (the last one 1976) they developed a strategy of traditional nonviolent means such as demonstrations, strikes, blockades and occupations. They kept to their strategy despite the fact that the government, with military means, forced them to go underground for some time and threats from an invasion of Soviet troops. (Labedz 1984)

The case of People Power in the Philippines had a lot of similarities with Poland. The decision to avoid armed means was deliberately chosen. The most visible action was organised mass jogging with yellow t-shirts in the capital Quezon City. Although it appeared to the outsider to be a spontaneous action, it was in fact the end of a long run struggle to remove Marcos from the presidency. After a disputed election the armed forces split and General Ramos joined the demand from the demonstrators in the streets to accept Mrs. Aquino as the winner. Marcos never understood the, for him, mysterious power of people when the organise and unite in actions of protest and disobedience. (Mercado 1986)

In Czechoslovakia the revolution came as the final act of a several decade long opposition-movement. Charta 77 and other underground groups had joined in what was called Civic Forum and mass demonstrations and strikes followed. The opposition did not take to arms against the Soviet led invasion in 1968 and such means was never on the agenda in the years to come. According to a parliamentary committee investigation in 1990 the communist regime tried several times in November 1989 to provoke violence among the demonstrators, but Civic Forum managed to keep to the nonviolent line (Powers and Vogele 1997).

In these three cases civil resistance was only one aspect of a large range of factors leading to the victory for the opposition movements. But the means used had an important influence on the revolutionary process as well as on the outcome of the struggles.

Comparing these three examples with what is traditionally called civil wars raise some questions about the connection between means and ends and the importance for the countries possibilities for development after the revolutionary process.

Civil wars in focus

Since the end of the cold war the total number of armed conflicts have significantly been reduced.  In the same period the most typical armed conflict has changed from being a conflict between two or more states with more than 1000 battle-related deaths a year to be a civil war with less battle-related deaths (Wallensteen & Sollenberg 1998). Examples are Chechnya, the Basque country, East Timor and Afghanistan.

In these three examples the “question to disagree about” were the political control of a territory. The methods they have used to influence the conflict have in all three cases included guerrilla warfare as a dominant strategic mean. The responds from the respectively states have been severe military and policing activities. The civil population has suffered to a large degree from these activities.

The civil wars dominate the media-picture as well as peace-researchers and scholars in political science. The casualties among civilians; children, women and elderly people have been broadcasted and reported world-wide and no one are not aware of these victims. The terrible consequences of armed conflicts are to such a degree in the focus of political discussions that they tend to diminish other interesting trends in current areas of conflict studies.

The discussions on “democratic peace”, the research on the number and types of conflicts, the campaigns against specific types of wars or weapon systems are all necessary and important but there is a need for studies in another trend which has taken place the last decades.

Definition of active Nonviolence

A combination of techniques by which people can address conflicts, including threats to their security, without using violence. It is not an attempt to avoid or ignore conflicts. There are three categories of active nonviolence:

Nonviolent protest and persuasion (mainly symbolic acts of peaceful opposition or of attempted persuasion, extending beyond verbal expressions) (Sharp 1973)

Noncooperation (deliberate withdrawal of cooperation with person, activity, institution or regime with which the activists are engaged in conflict) (Sharp 1973)

Nonviolent intervention (a class of methods involving the disruption or destruction of established behavioural patterns, policies, relationships or institutions that are considered unacceptable; or creation of preferred alternatives) (Sharp 1973)

Any combination of these means will in the following be named nonviolent action.

Two comments about the terminology

This definition is descriptive and does not take into consideration any aspect of intentions of the participants or consequences of the actions.

Nonviolent action is used because it has a history and a tradition within the peaceresearch- and peace movement societies. It is not a perfect terminology, especially since the term «nonviolence» in many cases has been defined in a conceptual way, with a strong normative emphasis, and therefor not reflecting what is actually happening in the nonviolent action. Narayan Desai can be a representative from one end of the spectra when he at the WRI Council meeting in Paris 1983 defined nonviolence as «perfect harmony of all life». In the other end of the same spectra we find the use of «nonviolence» as everything which does not include direct, serious physical attacks on human beings. In the following our intention is to be very close to the tradition from Gene Sharp in his book «The Politics of Nonviolent Action» (Sharp 1973). That is more close to Non-Belligerent or Non-Martial than to the more philosophical definitions. But rather than introduce a new terminology we have decided to base our terminology on a well-known concept.

Practical examples of active nonviolence

The following classification system is based on Gene Sharp, The Methods of Nonviolent Action. These 37 classes will be the base for the database in the project. Each of the mapped items will be classified based on the information we gather from the sources above. In brackets we have mentioned examples of the types of actions which will be included in each class.


(Public speeches, Letters of opposition or support, Declarations by organisations and institutions, signed public declarations, Declarations of indictment and intention, Group or mass petitions.)


(Slogans, caricatures, and symbols, banners, posters, and displayed communications, Leaflets, pamphlets, and books, Newspapers and journals, Records, radio, and television, Skywriting and earthwriting).


(Deputation, Mock awards, Group lobbying, Picketing, Mock elections)


(Displays of flags and symbolic colours, Wearing of symbols, Prayer and worship, Delivering symbolic objects, Protest disrobing, Destruction of own property, Symbolic lights, Displays of portraits, Paint as protest, New signs and names, Symbolic sounds, Symbolic reclamation, Rude gestures)


(“Haunting” officials, Taunting officials, Fraternisation, Vigils)


(Humorous skits and pranks, Performances of plays and music, Singing


(Marches, Parades, Religious processions, Pilgrimages, Motorcades)


(Political mourning, Mock funerals, Demonstrative funerals, Homage at burial places)


(Assemblies of protest or support, Protest meetings, Camouflaged meetings of protest, Teach-ins)


(Walk-outs, Silence, Renouncing honours, Turning one’s back).


(Social boycott, Selective social boycott, Lysistratic nonaction, Excommunication, Interdict)


(Suspension of social and sports activities, Boycott of social affairs, Student strike, Social disobedience, Withdrawal from social institutions)


(Stay-at-home, Total personal noncooperation, “Flight” of workers, Sanctuary, Collective disappearance, Protest emigration (hijrat)).


(Consumers’ boycott, Nonconsumption of boycotted goods, Policy of austerity, Rent withholding, Refusal to rent, National consumers’ boycott, International consumers’ boycott)


(Workers’ boycott, Producers’ boycott).


(Suppliers’ and handlers’ boycott)


(Traders’ boycott, Refusal to let or sell property, Lockout, Refusal of industrial assistance, Merchants’ “general strike”).


(Withdrawal of bank deposits, Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments, Refusal to pay debts or interest, Severance of funds and credit, Revenue refusal, Refusal of a government’s money).


(Domestic embargo, Blacklisting of traders, International sellers’ embargo, International buyers’ embargo, International trade embargo).


(Protest strike, Quickie walkout (lightning strike)).


(Peasant strike, Farm workers’ strike)


(Refusal of impressed labour, Prisoners’ strike, Craft strike, Professional strike)


(Establishment strike, Industry strike, Sympathy strike).


(Detailed strike, Bumper strike, Slowdown strike, Working-to-rule strike, Reporting “sick” (sick-in), strike by resignation, Limited strike, Selective strike).


(Generalised strike, General strike).


(Hartal, Economic shutdown).


(Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance, Refusal of public support, Literature and speeches advocating resistance).


(Boycott of legislative bodies, Boycott of elections, Boycott of government employment and positions, Boycott of government departments, agencies, and other bodies, Withdrawal from governmental educational institutions, Boycott of government-supported institutions, Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents, Removal of own signs and placemarks, Refusal to accept appointed officials, Refusal to dissolve existing institutions)


(Reluctant and slow compliance, Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision, Popular nonobedience, Disguised disobedience, Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse, Sitdown, Noncooperation with conscription and deportation, Hiding, escape, and false identities, Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws).


(Selective refusal of assistance by government aides, Blocking of lines of command and information, Stalling and obstruction, General administrative noncooperation, Judicial noncooperation, Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcement agents, Mutiny).


(Quasi-legal evasions and delays, Noncooperation by constituent governmental units).


(Changes in diplomatic and other representation, Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events, Withholding of diplomatic recognition, Severance of diplomatic relations, Withdrawal from international organisations, Refusal of membership in international bodies, Expulsion from international organisations).


(Self-exposure to the elements, The fast, a) Fast of moral pressure, b) Hunger strike, c) Satyagrahic fast, Reverse trial, Nonviolent harassment).


(Sit-in, Stand-in, Ride-in, Wade-in, Mill-in, Pray-in, Jail-In, Nonviolent raids, Nonviolent air raids, Nonviolent invasion, Nonviolent interjection, Nonviolent obstruction, Nonviolent occupation, “treehugging”).


(Establishing new social patterns, Overloading of facilities, Stall-in, Speak-in, Guerrilla theatre, Alternative social institutions, Alternative communication system).


(Reverse strike, Stay-in strike, Nonviolent land seizure, Defiance of blockades, Politically motivated counterfeiting, Preclusive purchasing, Seizure of assets, Dumping, Selective patronage, Alternative markets, Alternative transportation systems, Alternative economic institutions).


(Overloading of administrative systems, Disclosing identities of secret agents, Seeking imprisonment, Civil disobedience of “neutral” laws, Work-on without collaboration, Dual sovereignty and parallel government).

The change of means used in large-scale conflicts

The change in the patterns of armed conflicts has happened in the same period as the examples of large-scale conflicts carried out without arms have been multiplied. Many conflicts with similar questions to disagree about, with almost identical relations between the parties and with similar aims have been carried out without arms. A variety of active nonviolence has been more widely used in large-scale social and political conflicts the last decades than in any previous period. Groups that for unknown reasons choose not to take up arms in their struggles take up these means. A very important question to answer for scholars of peace research, conflict resolution and development theory is WHY they chose to use non-armed means. There is very little research done of finding their sources of inspiration, where they have learned their skills from or what was their main arguments in favour of active nonviolence. In many cases the actors have a long history of violence and armed struggles when they decided to change strategy. In almost every example the opponents, which in most cases are states, have not changed their repressive and violent means to suppress the opposition.

In Nonviolent Action. A Research Guide (McCarty & Sharp 1997) the authors have described more than 2700 books and articles on nonviolent struggles and actions. According to them hardly anyone have tried to answer these crucial questions. There is also a lack of research done on the internal structure of these movements. Questions on how they choose their leadership, in what way they were able to communicate during their struggle, what type of decision making process they used and who took part in the strategic discussions and decisions are still to be answered. Research in these fields and questions will produce a better understanding of the empowerment many of these movements gained in a short period of time and against all prophesies.

What about the outcome of the conflicts?

The next important question for studies in conflicts are if the possible outcomes of conflicts will differ dependent on the means used to influence them. Is there any connection between the means and the ends?

In her book “med andra medel…” (“with other means…”) (Peralta 1990) argues that the military means used by the guerrilla in Argentine resulted in a focus on the means in stead of the ends for the guerrilla groups. The means themselves became more important than the ends over time. She explains the process as an integrated and natural part of the guerrilla means.



Wallensten, P. och Sollenberg, M., 1998 ”Armed Conflict and Regional Complexes, 1989-97”. Journal of Peace Research, vol 35, no 5, 1998 side 621-634.

Wallensten, P., 1988, “The Origins of Peace Research”, in Peace Research- Achievements and Challenges, Westview Press, Boulder & London.

Keltner, John W., 1994, The Management of Struggle. Elements of Dispute Resolution through Negotiation, Mediation and Arbitration. Hampton Press

Powers, R. S. and Vogele, W B., 1997, Protest, Power, and Change. An Encyclopedia of Nonviolent Action from ACT-UP to Women´s Suffrage. Garland Publishing.

Labedz, Leopold (and the staff of Survey magazine) eds., 1984, Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Mercado, M.A,. ed., 1986, People Power: The Philippine Revolution of 1986: An Eyewitness History. S.J. Foundation

Jessup, John E. (1998), An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Conflict and Conflict Resolution, 1945-1996, Greenwood Publishing Group,  London

McCarthy, Ronald M. and Sharp, Gene, (1997), Nonviolent Action, A Research Guide, Garland Publishing Inc. London & New York

Peralta, Amanda (1990), …med andra medel. Från Clausewitz till Guevara – krig, revolution och politik i en marxistiske idétradition, Daidalos Göteborg.



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Posted in In English, Peace Research

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