Jonathan Pinckney, PhD

Nonviolent Resistance, Democratization, and Political Violence

Book Manuscript


From Dissent to Democracy

The Promise and Perils of Civil resistance transitions

(Currently Under Review)

Why do nonviolent revolutions, which typically mobilize huge numbers of people to push for more democratic political systems, sometimes end with even less democracy than when they started? In my book manuscript I examine this question, combining statistical analysis of a new dataset of all political transitions following successful nonviolent movements with in-depth case studies based on original fieldwork in Nepal, Zambia, and Brazil. I find that two strategic challenges: the difficulty of maintaining mobilization and the temptations of maximalism explain much of the variation in why nonviolent revolutions sometimes fail to deliver democratic change.

Working Papers (Selected) 


Durability not Democracy: Uncovering the Organizational Roots of Democratization

(with Charles Butcher and Jessica Maves Braithwaite)

(Under Review)

We refine and test theoretical mechanisms linking mass mobilization to democratization by focusing on variation in the organizations that participate in collective dissent. Specifically we investigate the effects of organizational diversity and durability on the likelihood of democratization. Using new data on maximalist claim-making organizations that engaged in resistance events in Africa from 1990-2015, we find little evidence that organizational diversity on its own improves democratization, which we link to what we call the ``diversity dilemma.'' While increased movement diversity may increase democratic preferences, it undermines movement capacity to realize these preferences by increasing collective action problems and reducing a movement's ability to make credible commitments. In contrast, the participation of durable organizations such as trade unions and religious organizations, significantly increases longer-term democratization prospects, which we argue reflects their enduring pro-democratic preferences and ability to credibly threaten re-mobilization during a transition. Our findings have important implications for our understanding of democratization and mass mobilization.


Tangled Up in Blue: External Intervention, Peacekeeper Backgrounds, and the Enabling Environment for Resistance

(with Margherita Belgioioso and Jessica di Salvatore)

(Under Review)

Why do some post-conflict countries transition from violent to nonviolent political contention while others fail to do so? When is international intervention beneficial in this process? The nonviolent expression of political grievances is a crucial part of the post-conflict peacebuilding process but is understudied thus far. We claim that the presence of peacekeepers significantly contributes to establishing a secure environment for nonviolent political contention, particularly peaceful protest. In addition, we claim that peacekeeping missions with personnel from countries with robust civil societies are more likely to promote peaceful political contention because of their prior socialization to civic engagement and bottom-top political participation. This is particularly true for UN police personnel (UNPOL), who have the most direct interaction with protesters in both home and host countries. We test our hypotheses using a newly-crafted dataset on nonviolent protests in post-conflict countries and peacekeeping missions’ presence, size, and home-country composition. We find that peacekeeping missions’ presence significantly increases peaceful protests in post-conflict country-years. This effect is largely explained by the presence of peacekeepers from countries with strong civil societies. Our findings have important implications for our understanding of post-conflict political revitalization and policy implications for the composition of peacekeeping missions.


Activists Against Autocrats: TSMO Networks and Democratic Diffusion

(with John Chin)

(Under Review)

Do transnational social movement organizations (TSMOs) promote the international diffusion of democracy? If so, how? Do TSMOs promote the spread and consolidation of democracy in ways that are distinct from regional inter-governmental organizations (IGOs)? Modern scholars of democratization have focused on a growing number of international factors in the spread of democracy, including geographic or regional proximity, colonial and trade networks, alliance networks, and joint IGO memberships. However, little attention to date has focused on the potential of TSMO networks in democratic diffusion. We theorize that TSMOs tend to promote democracy from the “bottom up” (by empowering civil societies), whereas IGOs tend to promote democracy from the “top down” (by socializing or sanctioning elites). We test the theory by leveraging the Transnational Social Movement Organizations Dataset from 1953-2013 and data from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem). We find that TSMOs do in fact promote democratic diffusion but tend to do so through different mechanisms than IGOs. Whereas IGOs are strongest in diffusing electoral democracy in general and free elections in particular, TSMOs are strongest in diffusing participatory and deliberative dimensions of democracy. TSMOs also promote the diffusion of electoral democracy, but do so by promoting the diffusion of freedom of association and freedom of expression rather than elections.

Download appendix analysis file here.


Close but not Too Close: Opposition Network Strategy and Democratization Outcomes

 Existing research shows that political transitions initiated through pressure from below are more likely to result in democratization. Yet little work has systematically disaggregated bottom-up transitions to suggest when this democratizing effect obtains. This article proposes a novel theoretical avenue for addressing this question: re-conceptualizing opposition movements as multi-organizational actor networks. Insights from network theory have had significant benefits for the study of social movements and security studies. Applying these insights to democratization, I argue that opposition movements face strong incentives to achieve unity through increasing levels of connection. The specific strategy they pursue to achieve this connection in turn affects the political landscape during the transition. Highly centralized opposition networks are likely to lead to less democratic outcomes while more decentralized networks will have more democratic outcomes. I examine these dynamics in a crucial case study: the 1991 democratic transition in Zambia. I find that high degrees of centralization by the opposition movement in Zambia undermined political accountability during the transition and undermined Zambia’s democratic progress.


When the Levee Breaks: An Ensemble Forecasting Model of Nonviolent and Violent Conflict

(with Babak RezaeeDaryakenari)

There is increasing interest in conflict research in forecasting conflict onset. Yet the literature thus far has focused almost exclusively on the onset of violent conflicts such as civil wars, and largely ignored the onset of major nonviolent uprisings. Similarly, the growing literature of forecasting nonviolent uprisings has largely ignored the onset of violent conflict. Since the onset of major episodes of violent or nonviolent contention are not independent of one another, these approaches are likely to miss significant variation in contentious activity. In this paper we address this gap in the literature by developing the first unified forecasting model of the onset of both major violent and nonviolent uprisings. We draw on three types of data: slow-moving structural factors such as geography and levels of economic development, medium-term political dynamics captured in trends in events data, and short-term triggering events captured in topic modeling of newswire coverage. We combine separate forecasting models using Ensemble Bayesian Model Averaging (EBMA) to generate a unified set of annual forecasts that can reliably predict the onset of both violent and nonviolent uprisings.


INGOs and the Onset of Civil Resistance Campaigns

(with John Chin

Do transnational advocacy networks (TANs) or global civil society promote violent and nonviolent resistance against injustice? This paper examines the relationship between international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and incidence of civil resistance using new data on major nonviolent and violent campaigns and outcomes (RE-NAVCO) and INGOs over the 1960 to 2013 period. The results show that INGOs significantly increase the onset of nonviolent regime change campaigns targeting authoritarian regimes, but do not promote either violent insurgencies or nonviolent territorial campaigns. INGOs also significantly reduce the likelihood of the major violent insurgencies under democratic and partially democratic regimes. Robustness checks using instrumental variables indicate that the effect of INGOs on nonviolent civil resistance is not an endogenous by-product of confounders such as economic development. The results point to the revolutionary promise of civil society promotion to promote democracy.


Dutch Disease - Deadly to Civil Resistance: A Time-Series Analysis of Oil and Gas Rents and Nonviolent Resistance

How does oil and gas revenue affect dissent in non-democracies? I apply the logic of the resource curse literature, which argues for various pernicious social and economic effects of natural resource wealth - particularly oil and gas revenue - to a new area: the onset of campaigns of nonviolent resistance. Related arguments in the literature would lead us to expect that oil and gas revenue should suppress nonviolent resistance onset, but that country-specific declines in revenue should lead to increased nonviolent resistance. Alternatively, I argue that the suppressive effects of oil and gas revenue may continue even during periods of declining revenue because of the long-term economic effects of oil and gas extraction. I test these relationships on a dataset of all non-democratic country-years from 1945-2013, combining existing data sources on oil and gas revenue and the onset of nonviolent resistance campaigns. I find that high levels of oil and gas revenue do suppress nonviolent resistance onset and that this effect continues even when revenues undergo significant declines, supporting my argument on the long-term economic effects of oil and gas.


Did the Women’s March Work? Revisiting the Political Efficacy of Protest

The Women's March on Washington and its over 600 “sister marches” were likely the single largest day of protest in American history, and were followed by a wave of political organizing that re-invigorated progressive politics after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. Yet to what degree can we attribute the emergence of this Anti-Trump “Resistance” to the Women's Marches themselves? Do public protests such as the Women’s March truly change political outcomes or do they simply reflect underlying public opinion? There is a growing literature arguing that protest has important effects independent of its endogenous relationship to public opinion. In this paper, I test this argument on the scale of the Women’s March. I instrument Women’s March participation using rainfall data from the day of the march and measure the effects of instrumented march size on two dependent variables: the creation of “Indivisible” groups, and the shift towards Democratic congressional candidates in the 2018 elections. I find that the instrumented size of Women's March protests significantly increased both dependent variables. These findings provide strong evidence that the Women’s Marches were a significant transformative event in American politics, with real political consequences, and speak to the power of peaceful protest as a social movement tactic.