Mohandas Gandhi often indicated that nonviolence was “a science,” and he appears to have meant this literally. Consistent with this vision, in this paper, we outline and apply principles of behavioral systems science, an emerging data-based approach to understanding the dynamics of complex cultural systems, to the practice of constructive noncooperation (Gandhi’s “constructive programme”). Although Gandhi emphasized that constructive action was the most important and potent of nonviolent strategic options, constructive alternatives have been the least developed in the literature of nonviolent struggle. The reconceptualization of constructive noncooperation in behavioral systems terms offered here suggests that rigorous analysis of Havel’s “living in truth” and Gandhi’s “truth force” may be both possible and practically useful in challenging oppression and supporting human rights.

Author Bio(s)

Mark A. Mattaini is Associate Professor in the Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago, and an affiliate investigator in the UIC Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Violence. His scholarship focuses on community violence prevention and nonviolent social action supporting human rights and social justice. He is currently completing his tenth book, The Science of Satyagraha: Strategic Nonviolent Power. Email: mattaini@uic.edu.

Kristen N. Atkinson is a doctoral candidate in the Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago, an affiliate of the UIC Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Violence, a founding board member of the Chicago Freedom School, and an activist in the Venus Collective, the Theatre of the Oppressed, and other progressive causes. Her research focuses on the development of activism and critical consciousness among young people. Email: knatkinson@gmail.com.


behavioral systems science, campaigns of resistance, constructive noncooperation, Mohandas Gandhi, nonviolence

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