Civil disobedience

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Civil disobedience is a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies.[1]

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General introduction to approach

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Civil disobedience is a form of direction action, which can communicate and illustrate a message more clearly than writing a letter or an article. Citizens use this tactic to confront perceived injustices of governments and corporations alike who often benefit from an imbalance of power. [1]

Civil disobedience is a form of public action in which people directly challenge traditional "rules of engagement" and call into question the moral frameworks shaping society. Scholars often think of it having four components - conscientiousness, communication, publicity, non-violence.

  • Conscientiousness - the actors draw attention to laws and policies that they believe warrant re-valuation or rejection.
  • Communication - civil disobedience actions communicate a perspective to the target of the action
  • Publicity - some scholars believe that civil disobedience is only committed in public, openly, and with fair warning to officials. In lieu of fair advanced notice, an actor may take responsibility for the action immediately after it has been taken.
  • Non-violence - while this is a commonly agreed upon principle, defining "violence" is not so easy and there are many types e.g. violence to self, violence to property, or minor violence against others. Furthermore, non-violence does not necessarily mean "no harm."

"There is more agreement amongst thinkers that civil disobedience can be either direct or indirect. In other words, civil disobedients can either breach the law they oppose or breach a law which, other things being equal, they do not oppose in order to demonstrate their protest against another law or policy." [2]

Shapes, sizes and applications

Relation to UrbanA themes: Cities, sustainability, and justice

Narrative of change

Cities' policies and laws can inadvertently, or by design, benefit certain groups of people or businesses to the detriment of other people, businesses, or the planet. Engaging civil disobedience draws attention to and facilitates understanding of these injustices. With increased awareness and knowledge of a problem, comes the opportunity to take action for change.

Transformative potential


Suggested reading