Nonviolent political action and the limits of consent

Theoria 53 (111):87-107 (2006)
Abstract
The consent theory of power, whereby ruling elites depend ultimately on the submission, cooperation and obedience of the governed as their source of power, is often linked to debates about the effectiveness of non-violent political action. According to this theory, ruling elites depend ultimately on the submission, cooperation and obedience of the governed as their source of power. If this cooperation is with-drawn, then this power is undermined. Iain Atack outlines this theory and examines its strengths and weaknesses. Atack argues that incorporating the insights of other theories of power, such as Gramsci's theory of hegemony and Foucault's views on 'micro-power', can provide us with a more sophisticated understanding of both the effectiveness and the limits of nonviolent political action than the consent theory of power. Gramsci's contribution deepens the analysis in terms of our understanding of the origins of individual consent in the context of larger economic and political structures, while Foucault adds a different dimension, in that his micro-approach emphasizes the ubiquity and plurality of power, rather than its embodiment or reification in large-scale structures.
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