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Gandhian Nonviolent Struggle and Untouchability in South IndiaThe 1924–25 Vykom Satyagraha and Mechanisms of Change$

Mary Elizabeth King

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199452668

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199452668.001.0001

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(p.314) Appendix II Mechanisms of Change

(p.314) Appendix II Mechanisms of Change

Gandhian Nonviolent Struggle and Untouchability in South India
Oxford University Press

Four different “mechanisms of change,” a description of possible outcomes, have evolved as an analytical tool to explain how nonviolent action can work and what may be the aim of its strategy.1

It is possible with careful planning for a campaign or movement to seek the most suitable mechanism.

In explaining how a nonviolent campaign can achieve its results, or deciding how to plan a group’s strategy, a number of conditions determine what mechanism can be reached, including, “the specific conflict situation, the issues at stake, the social structure of the resisting population, the nature of the opponents … the specific methods used, and the skill, discipline, and tenacity of the resisters.”2

  1. (p.315) 1. Conversion: The target group reacts to nonviolent civil resistance by accepting a new point of view and adopts the goals of the nonviolent protagonists. The “hearts and minds” of the opponent are altered. Power transfers to the movement. Historically, this mechanism occurs rarely.

  2. 2. Accommodation: The target group chooses to yield to demands and adjusts to the new circumstances produced by the nonviolent challengers, but without necessarily changing positions on the underlying issues. This is historically the most frequent outcome between two contending parties in successful mobilizations. The shifts in policy or power from the adversary or target group to the nonviolent action takers may be unannounced, even when occurring.

  3. 3. Nonviolent Coercion: This mechanism transpires when the members of the target group remain in their stations and situations, policies unchanged, yet can no longer manage their own system without the cooperation of the nonviolent protagonists. This can happen without the will or consent of the opponent, which may retain control of the structures of power and the capability to use them, even as its capacity for containing the civil resisters wanes. As the nonviolent movement pulls away the opponent’s bulwarks of support, isolating the adversary from its sources of power, it is forced to yield to the demands of the movement.

  4. 4. Disintegration: In extremely rare cases, the power system of the opponent completely collapses, as its bulwarks of support with their sources of power are pulled away by the nonviolent mobilization.


(1) The germinal work discerning ways in which nonviolent civil resistance could operate, and how its strategy could be targeted, was done by George Lakey, “The Sociological Mechanisms of Nonviolent Action” (Master’s degree thesis, University of Philadelphia, 1962); Lakey, “The Sociological Mechanisms of Nonviolent Action,” Peace Research Review 2, no. 6 (1968): 1–102. While Richard Gregg wrote extensively about conversion, the other three mechanisms, which occur more frequently, have been analyzed by scholars Clarence Marsh Case, George Lakey, and Gene Sharp, whose work builds on Lakey’s.

(2) Gene Sharp, There Are Realistic Alternatives, monograph (Boston: Albert Einstein Institution, 2003), 13–14. Downloadable at http://www.aeinstein.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/TARA.pdf (accessed January 22, 2014).