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Beyond Rational Choice: Ideational Assault and the Strategic Use of Frames in Nonviolent Civil Resistance

Nonviolent Conflict and Civil Resistance

ISBN: 978-1-78190-345-2, eISBN: 978-1-78190-346-9

Publication date: 19 September 2012


We examine the rational utility and social–psychological approaches to develop fresh insights into nonviolent civil resistance. Rational utility models provide a useful, even essential, starting point for understanding what movement organizers must do if they are to overcome their movements’ collective action problems. However, the model's spare definition of agency excludes an investigation of regime legitimacy, how it is constructed and the role it plays in regime continuity. Employing a social psychological approach, we introduce the concept of “ideational assault” in which movement organizers challenge the ideas that justify voluntary civic cooperation with the ruling order. Ideational assault seeks “rhetorical coercion” in which the regime is stripped of credible arguments in its own defense and must increasingly rule by sanctions alone. Ideational assaults employ frames that delegitimize the prevailing order and mobilize people to act against it. By examining several frame forms, including, calls to action, symbolic jiu-jitsu, humor, and moral appeal, we cast new light on the ideational battle that rages alongside the fight for control of the streets. We conclude by arguing that students of nonviolent civil resistance should consult both the rational and social–psychological approaches in their analysis.



Gould, J.A. and Moe, E. (2012), "Beyond Rational Choice: Ideational Assault and the Strategic Use of Frames in Nonviolent Civil Resistance", Erickson Nepstad, S. and Kurtz, L.R. (Ed.) Nonviolent Conflict and Civil Resistance (Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, Vol. 34), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 123-151.



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