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Researchers: Dr Elizabeth Frazer with Professor Kimberly Hutchings (Queen Mary University of London)

Funder: John Fell OUP Research Fund

What kinds of justifications do we have for deciding whether to act violently or non-violently?

Where do we draw the line between political action and violent action? How do activists justify various forms of action? And does acting politically need a different kind of justification than acting violently?

In the pursuit of social order, governments and states seek to justify, and to control, the use of force.  Meanwhile, claims for justice, rights, or social change frequently lead to conflict with forces of ‘order’, and violent confrontation often results. The frontier between politics and violence is one of the most pressing political problems of our time, both within states and internationally.

Many people draw a line between politics and violence – we talk of a group laying down their arms, and entering into a political process. But it is not that simple. For some people, armed struggle is part of the political process, and justifiable for political ends. There is also a grey area when non-violent action can be considered as violent – where it is used in a way which is somehow aggressive, or when it provokes violence in others.

This project is conducting fieldwork to ask current political activists about their understandings of the politics violence frontier. What kinds of actions may we engage in, and what kinds of justifications do we have for deciding to act violently or non-violently. Initial fieldwork has taken place in Italy. The project is now conducting initial analysis, and aims to design a larger comparative study of the politics-violence frontier across a range of cases of political activism in Northern and Southern Europe.

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