Erica Chenoweth: Discarding the sword


(Courtesy of Allison Stroh)

With her weary eyes and short, tussled hair, Erica Chenoweth looks the part of a busy academic.


Chenoweth, a visiting scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), had just returned from a six-week around-the-world tour for her recently published book comparing the efficiency of nonviolent to violent uprisings during the Arab Spring. Despite her fatigue, her eyes gleamed when talking about her book and life after her tour.


“Ever since then, my life has been a whirlwind,” Chenoweth said.


Chenoweth has begun to tackle more book projects as well. In one, she examines the role of terrorism in democratic countries, arguing that terrorist violence is more likely to be seen in free societies. In another project, Chenoweth explores the successes and failures of international conflicts to explain the rational behind nonviolent uprisings. In addition, Chenoweth analyzes the effectiveness of counterterrorism policies and is involved in a variety of movements for nonviolent resistance.


From her research, Chenoweth has concluded that political power is shifting from those who have the most weapons to those who can recognize and exercise popular power over authority.


“Mao [Zedong] used to say that power flows from the barrel of a gun,” Chenoweth said. But “what we’re now seeing is that people are standing down gun barrels all over the world, and they’re winning.”


According to Chenoweth, nonviolent resistance is twice as effective as violent insurgency because it lowers the body count from a rebellion and lays a firm foundation for the future of a country.


“If you win by the sword, you’re going to rule by the sword,” she said.


Growing up, Chenoweth knew she wanted to study political conflict, but it wasn’t always clear to her how she would apply such knowledge. On her book tour, Syrian activists inspired Chenoweth, and despite the fact that she “may never see [them] again,” she said, these Syrian activists could use Chenoweth’s research to help protests stay nonviolent in their actions against the government.


“What my research has done for people, is it has made them less afraid,” Chenoweth said.


Partially through this experience, she said she realized that she wants to do more work involving the intersection of policy and people.


“The problem with many academics is that we talk too much to each other and not the people who need the information,” she said.


— Carl Romanos

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