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Nonviolence as Democratic Innovation


Organised by Florence School of Transnational Governance

Nonviolence is often studied from a social movements perspective, looking at organized mobilization against unfair laws or authoritarian regimes. Recently, movements concerned with the planetary climate crisis have also evoked nonviolence when committing acts like traffic blockages, hunger strikes or throwing paint at art. At the same time, often outside the dimension of organized social movements, individuals are using their bodies and ‘the power of one’, leveraging nonviolence to challenge existing public policies, often facing legal consequences.

The analysis of these practices – centred around the protection of fundamental rights - raises new questions about what nonviolence is and what it is for, re-opening the classic discussion between principled and pragmatic nonviolence. It also raises the question of how we go from ‘the power of one’ to informal mobilization to organized movements, and further to democratic choice in complex societies. But this is a two-way street, since collective, society-wide democratic representation and public decisions taken by parliaments and governments reverberate on individual choices, reinvigorating or stifling individual and small-group / informal nonviolent struggle as democratic innovation.  

Fundamentally, nonviolent praxis means enacting a form of politics that takes the democratic ideal to its radical and innovative conclusions. To understand how these connections manifest in the practices is one goal of this workshop. Another goal is to examine nonviolence beyond the stereotype of input for - or complement to - democratic representation. Instead, we put the lens on nonviolence as democratic innovation, and explore the quality, dimensions, and value of this innovation.  

The workshop will revolve around a set of conversations between university researchers and individuals engaged in nonviolent struggle, conflict, and, more generally, practice. We will assess if, how and when exactly nonviolence can be framed as democratic innovation. If yes, when can we talk of nonviolence and how can we grasp its innovative quality? If not, what does nonviolence need to transform into, to become democratic innovation? The final question motivating our workshop revolves around the following: if nonviolence is, under certain conditions, democratic innovation, how do we connect it with democratic participation and representative democracy?  

The workshop is organised with a networking grant provided by UACES – University Association for Contemporary European Studies. The event is Supported by Journal of Pacifism and Nonviolence and the Transnational Democracy in 21st Century Cluster of the European University Institute.


10.00 AM – 10.45 AM - Opening Remarks 

Claudio Radaelli  

Virginia Fiume  

Marco Perduca – Former Member of the Italian Parliament  

10.45 - 12.00 AM - Between direct action and nonviolence: research papers  

Virginia Fiume – STG Policy Leader Fellow and Nonviolent Activist - From the power of one to the power of and for all : three case studies to identify mechanisms of nonviolence that democratize democracy  

Ophelia Nicole-Berva - PhD researcher, SPS Department, EUI - Can civil disobedience be silent? The case of solidarity crimes in border areas

Carla Vitantonio - Campaigner, NGO Leader, Author and STG Alumna - Democratic innovations in authoritarian regimes? Active nonviolence in Cuba (based on her later book Bolero Avana, ADD Press)  

Amy Delis – MA Student, School of Transnational Governance – The Voice of Nonviolence in the European Parliament : A missed opportunity  

12.00 - 14.15 - Lunch Break

Practices of nonviolence and direct action "take over" the School of Transnational Governance  

Students, Researchers and Practitioners are invited to a tour at Palazzo Buontalenti (Mezzazine/lunch area, Machiavelli Room and main entrance).   

Activists will display visual materials (posters, pictures, etc,) to describe their campaigns/actions about how nonviolence brings about democratic innovation.   

14.15 - 16.00 - Workshop Mode  

Reflection, Learning, Exchanges between the world of practice and the world of research  

Moderator: Virginia Fiume  

16.00 - 16.30 - Break  

16.30 - 18.00 - From democratic innovation to multi-level governance and democratic representation   

Moderator: Claudio Radaelli  

Alexandre Christoyannopoulos - Loughborough University, UK; Editor, Journal of Pacifism and Nonviolence An anarcho-pacifist critique of the European Union  

Kalypso Nicolaidis - Chair of Global Politics, Florence School of Transnational Governance, EUI  - Direct Nonviolent Action, Participation and Democratic Representation  

Please note the event can be attended in person only. 

12 Feb 2024 Florence, Italy