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Saturday, August 15, 2020

Disrupting the System Constructively: Testing the Effectiveness of Nonnormative Nonviolent Collective Action

Shuman, E. (2020, June 21).


Collective action research tends to focus on motivations of the disadvantaged group, rather than on which tactics are effective at driving the advantaged group to make concessions to the disadvantaged. We focused on the potential of nonnormative nonviolent action as a tactic to generate support for concessions among advantaged group members who are resistant to social change. We propose that this tactic, relative to normative nonviolent and to violent action, is particularly effective because it reflects constructive disruption: a delicate balance between disruption (which can put pressure on the advantaged group to respond), and perceived constructive intentions (which can help ensure that the response to action is a conciliatory one). We test these hypotheses across four contexts (total N = 3650). Studies 1-3 demonstrate that nonnormative nonviolent action (compared to inaction, normative nonviolent action, and violent action) is uniquely effective at increasing support for concessions to the disadvantaged among resistant advantaged group members (compared to advantaged group members more open to social change). Study 3 shows that constructive disruption mediates this effect. Study 4 shows that perceiving a real-world ongoing protest as constructively disruptive predicts support for the disadvantaged, while Study 5 examines these processes longitudinally over 2 months in the context of an ongoing social movement. Taken together, we show that nonnormative nonviolent action can be an effective tactic for generating support for concessions to the disadvantaged among those who are most resistant because it generates constructive disruption.

From the General Discussion

Based on this research, which collective action tactic should disadvantaged groups choose to advance their status? While a simple reading of these findings might suggest that nonnormative nonviolent action is the “most effective” form of action, a closer reading of these findings and other research (Saguy & Szekeres, 2018; Teixeira et al., 2020; Thomas & Louis, 2014) would suggest that what type of action is most effective depends on the goal. We demonstrate that nonnormative nonviolent action is effective for generating support for concessions to the protest that would advance its policy goals from those who were more resistant. On the other hand, other prior research has found that normative nonviolent action was more effective at turning sympathizers into active supporters (Teixeira et al., 2020; Thomas & Louis, 2014)16. Thus, which action tactic will be most useful to the disadvantaged may depend on the goal: If they are facing resistance from the advantaged blocking the achievement of their goals, nonnormative nonviolent action may be more effective. However, if the disadvantaged are seeking to build a movement that includes members of the advantaged group, the nonnormative nonviolent action will likely be more effective. The question is thus not which tactic is “most effective”, but which tactic is most effective to achieve which goal for what audience.