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The Paradox of Reform: The Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland

Nonviolent Conflict and Civil Resistance

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

Publication date: 19 September 2012


A growing body of research on nonviolent movements has focused upon backfire or the paradox of repression, whereby repression increases support for these movements and the likelihood of their achieving their goals. The relationship between reforms and nonviolent movements, however, has received less attention. The existence of the paradox of repression suggests the inverse possibility of the paradox of reform, whereby reforms drain support away from nonviolent movements or even contribute to greater support for violent forms of contention. An exploratory, triangulated analysis of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland establishes an instance of the paradox. Within the civil rights movement, the announcement of reforms contributed to the exiting of moderates and the growing influence of those less committed to nonviolent forms of contention. Dominant group backlash resulted in vigilante attacks on both the movement and minority areas, intensified repression, and stalling on promised reforms. In response to these changed conditions, many in the minority group came to see armed rebellion as a more viable form of struggle for social justice than nonviolent protest. The case underscores the need to carefully consider the mediating role of reforms in the relationship between repression and nonviolent mobilization as well as to recognize multiple internal and external obstacles that promised yet slowly implemented reforms can present to movements pursuing social change through nonviolence.



Maney, G.M. (2012), "The Paradox of Reform: The Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland", 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. 3-26.



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