Introducing Resistance Studies

Scholar-activists are advancing a new radical discipline through course offerings, a global network and publications.

Resistance Studies is a collaborative effort between academics and activists which promotes the analysis of — and support for — direct action, civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance around the world. This includes the Resistance Studies Initiative at UMass Amherst, scholars in the Resistance Studies Network and the interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed Journal of Resistance Studies.

The Resistance Studies Initiative

The Resistance Studies Initiative, or RSI, at UMass Amherst is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. RSI supports unarmed struggles against all forms of exploitation and violence. The Resistance Studies Initiative seeks to create “resistance studies,” a liberationist social science analyzing and supporting the efforts of activists worldwide who are employing direct action, civil disobedience, everyday resistance, digital activism, mass protest, and other kinds of nonviolent resistance.

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As we define it, resistance challenges all forms of domination—not just “the state,” but capitalism’s exploitative practices (economic injustices, commodification, alienation, and fetishism), the status quo’s discursive truth-regimes and normative orders, and sociocultural patriarchal hierarchies of gender, race, status, caste, and taste. In resisting any of these, activists question, challenge, and undermine not only the state, but power as such.

The essential goals of this initiative are to help create a more humane world by fostering social change and human liberation in its fullest sense. RSI studies how resistance can undermine repression, injustices, and domination of all kinds, and how it can nurture such creative responses as constructive work, alternative communities, and oppositional ways of thinking.

RSI works towards these goals in a number of ways: through course offerings at UMass Amherst, ranging from everyday resistance to struggles for land rights in the Americas; public events and conferences; participation in the Resistance Studies Network, and support for the publication of texts like the peer-reviewed Journal of Resistance Studies and “Researching Resistance and Social Change: A Critical Approach to Theory and Practice.”

The Resistance Studies Network

RSI collaborates closely with the Resistance Studies Network, or RSN, a forum for scholars engaging with practices of resistance. The RSN is a joint initiative of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst and San Francisco State University’s College of Ethnic Studies in the United States. The RSN is administered with the support of the Centre for Advanced International Theory, or CAIT at Sussex.

The network was launched in 2006 by scholars at the School for Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg to facilitate exchange and collaboration around the study of resistance at the contemporary juncture of global transformation.

In 2013, scholars from Sussex launched the ‘Resisting Theory’ network through CAIT, following two linked symposia on Subjects and Practices of Resistance: Counter-Conduct in Global Politics and Discipline(s), Dissent and Dispossession. This initiative had a much longer lineage in an international collaborative project on Disciplining Dissent, involving a series of panels, workshops, a conference and a publication.

In 2015, a generous donation from a Quaker activist family has underwritten the Initiative and the creation at UMass of an Endowed Chair in the Study of Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Resistance.

The three initiatives came together in mid-2015, and were joined in late 2016 by the San Francisco State University’s College of Ethnic Studies, the only college of its kind in the United States. SFSU joined the steering group of the RSN, bringing a long tradition of teaching and research on Race and Resistance Studies.

The RSN aims to further collaboration and exchange on the study not only of struggles directed against overt practices of domination, exploitation and oppression, but also against practices of freedom, which place ethical constraints on who we can be.

Moreover, the RSN hopes to encourage interaction around positive and productive aspects of struggles, including those aimed at attaining new ways of being, relating and thinking. The RSN thus explores the entanglements of power and resistance, especially potentially problematic and contradictory patterns of reproduction of domination within resistance.

The network is open for all interested in fostering pluralistic, critical and self-reflective exchange on diverse modes of resistance – be they organized or spontaneous, explicitly political or everyday struggles – from both historical and contemporary perspectives.

With the help of collaborative workshops and conferences, joint research and publication projects, thematic educational events and a regular mailing list, the RSN aspires to deepen collaboration between researchers interested in the study of resistance.

The Journal of Resistance Studies

Affiliated with the Resistance Studies Network is the Journal of Resistance Studies, now in its fourth volume. The Journal of Resistance Studies is an international, interdisciplinary and peer-reviewed scientific journal that explores unarmed resistance. The articles in JRS focus on critical understandings of resistance strategies, discourses, tactics, effects, causes, contexts and experiences.

The journal welcomes contributions that advance an understanding of how resistance might undermine repression, injustices and domination of any kind, as well as how resistance might nurture autonomous subjectivity, as e.g. constructive work, alternative communities, oppositional ways of thinking.

The Journal of Resistance Studies encourages a broad and critical discussion on the possibilities, forms, and conditions, as well as problematics of ‘resistance’. JRS avoids dogmatic agendas, does not favor any particular framework, and encourages a debate on definitions of ‘resistance.’

The long term ambition of JRS is to further the development of a scientific field of ‘resistance studies,’ a field that critically engages with, and learns from, other relevant fields that discuss similar phenomena while using other key concepts, such as activism, contention, deconstruction, disengagement, disobedience, disruption, encroachment, identity politics, insurgency, mimicry, multitude, performativity, protest, queering, rebellion, refusal, riot, revolution, social movement, or other relevant concepts.

Who we are

Stellan Vinthagen serves as the Inaugural Endowed Chair in the Study of Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Resistance at The University of Massachusetts Amherst. Vinthagen is a scholar-activist: he teaches as a Professor of Sociology at UMAss Amherst and holds a PhD in Peace and Development Research from University of Gothenburg. He is also a researcher in his native Sweden, in The Department of Sociology and Work Science at the University of Gothenburg, where he is leading the Resistance Studies Program. Vinthagen also serves as an academic advisor to the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC). Vinthagen researches resistance, power, social movements, nonviolent action and social change. He has written numerous articles, and written or edited ten books, the latest being “Researching Resistance and Social Change: A Critical Approach to Theory and Practice,” published in 2017.

Mandy Carter is a Resistance Studies Fellow with RSI. A southern African-American lesbian with a 52-year movement history of social, racial and LGBT justice organizing since 1967, Ms. Carter was raised in two orphanages and a foster home for her first 18 years in the state of New York. Ms. Carter helped co-found two groundbreaking organizations, Southerners On New Ground, or SONG, and the National Black Justice Coalition, or NBJC. Ms. Carter received the Union Medal in 2015, the highest honor from the Union Theological Seminary, a leading progressive seminary and voice for justice. Ms. Carter attributes the influences of the Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee, the former Institute for the Study of Nonviolence, and the pacifist-based War Resisters League for her sustained multi-racial and multi-issue organizing.

Jørgen Johansen serves as Deputy Editor for the Journal of Resistance Studies and coordinator of the Nordic Nonviolence Study Group, or NORNONS. Johansen has been active with social justice, peace, environmental and democracy issues worldwide for the last 40 years. He has combined participation in campaigns and movements with writing and building strategies and developing theories for a wide variety of resistance. In recent years, Johansen has replaced extensive travels with constructive resistance from his base in a deep Scandinavian forest. Together with his wife Majken Jul Sørensen, Johansen runs Irene Publishing and a small center for writers and activists.

Matt Meyer is a Senior Research Scholar at RSI. Meyer is an internationally-recognized author, academic, organizer, and educator who was recently elected Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association, or IPRA. He also serves as National Co-chair of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the oldest interfaith peace and justice group in United States history. As former National Chair of the War Resisters League, Meyer is second only to A.J. Muste — “dean of the US peace movement” — in having been elected to the top position of both historic organizations.

Joanne Sheehan serves as a Resistance Studies Fellow at RSI. Sheehan has been an organizer, nonviolence trainer and educator for over 48 years. She has been on the staff of War Resisters League’s New England Office in Norwich, CT since co-founding it in 1985. Active with War Resister’s International (WRI) since 1983, Sheehan served as WRI Chair from 1998 to 2006. She has been the Chair of the Voluntown Peace Trust (formerly the Community for Nonviolent Action) since 2012. Sheehan has been involved in many nonviolent campaigns against war and war profiteers, nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and war toys to name a few. As an organizer, Sheehan has also been active countering military recruitment of youth and works with youth providing opportunities for them to develop as activists, organizers, and trainers.

To read more about our team, click here.

Join our efforts by learning how you can get involved in the Resistance Studies Initiative, the Resistance Studies Network, and the Journal of Resistance Studies.

This story was produced by Resistance Studies


Resistance Studies is a collaborative effort between academics and activists, or “professors of the street,” that promotes the analysis of and support for nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience around the world. This includes the Resistance Studies Initiative at UMass Amherst, scholars in the Resistance Studies Network and the interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed Journal of Resistance Studies.

Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.