PeB Journal | General

Non-Violent Conflict 

Non-violent resistance can be defined “as the application of unarmed civilian power using nonviolent methods such as protests, strikes, boycotts, and demonstrations, without using or threatening physical harm against the opponent” (Chenoweth & Cunningham 2013: 271). In the light of a row of civil uprisings in the last century, such as the Arab Spring, scholars have shifted more focus towards examining non-violent actions and strategies (ibid.). However, one highly salient recent case has been so far neglected by the existing literature: the conflict regarding study-areas and the soul of the Department of Peace and Conflict Research (DPCR) at Uppsala University (UU). 

While most universities nowadays are dominated by the interests of budget-maximizing administrators (cf. Niskanen 1971), “one small [department] of indomitable [students and researchers] still holds out against the invaders” (cf. Goscinny 1961). The DPCR has until now been spared to a large part by budget cuts of the university’s advocates. But now a new threat is emerging, disturbing the peaceful conflict researchers in their studies: the DPCR has been confronted by a proposal that all teaching halls and student areas at Gamla Torget 3 will be handed over from intendenturen to Byggnadsavdelningen: the university’s administrative staff. What could possibly go wrong?

The Case

From research findings to student unions and internal politics, university is an intense playground for politics. Without going into the benefits of research itself (which speaks for itself), a few dynamics are interesting to understand in this non-violent conflict. 

When you think of funding for higher education, one can think of full classrooms and fancy research in a lab. However, this is not exactly how it works. One important part of the funding goes to administrative costs, this includes the administrative personnel and the buildings. UU does not own the premises in which it teaches as most of it is owned by ‘Akademiska Hus’: a government agency in charge of higher education buildings typically charging ‘market price’ rents. If this conflict between the DPCR and the university seems to be about territory; it is really about resources.

The Uppsala University’s Vice Chancellor, Eva Åkesson, therefore has the mission of reducing costs while maintaining a high standard of higher education. In the great tradition of passing the hot potato, the university has instructed the Gamla Torget Campus Board to reduce costs. For good measure, the subsidy of 2 million SEK for premise costs was also withdrawn. One way to cut costs  is to reduce the size of premises on the grounds that the lecture halls are too often unoccupied (about 70% of the time). As a result, the campus (Governance, Law, Eurasian Studies, and Peace and Conflict Research), decided to look for premises to sell or relocate to other units of the university (Gamla Torget 3 & 5, Munken 3, Trädgårdsgatan 1). With the DPCR being the smallest and having only one out of eleven votes in the Campus Board, the balance of power looks, at best, uneven in this battle for Gamla Torget 3. 

One might argue that the premises are not used – Gamla Torget  3 contains the least used lecture halls of the campus; the need for efficiency and cost reduction is warranted . Thus, losing Gamla Torget  3 would only be the logical outcome. However convincing this argument may be, it disregards a few important points. To address these, it is important to understand how a social science student uses her/his study-time. 

What’s crucial to understand is that the ‘contact hours’ are minimal and the study hours make up most of the 40 hours a week studied towards a university degree. The loss of study areas would ultimately be more severe than the loss of lecture halls. The fact is most students regularly struggle to find space to study at Gamla Torget  6 or 3, especially during exam times. Having less free space is not an option and transforming lecture halls into study spaces could be a solution to both problems. Surely a university dating back to the 15th century would have no struggle understanding the importance of long term solutions rather than just getting rid of one dent in the budget? It’s not like the DPCR is a world-class research department, that despite its small size produces one of the largest databases on violent conflict. Or does it? 

Ways Forward 

Taking into account the above presented swamp of university politics, the following strategies for a continuation of the non-violent campaign and the resolution of this conflict are brought forward. Due to its position in the city center and because it has a separate entrance, the campus at Gamla Torget 3 is strategically valuable for both actors. In addition, it has a historical and cultural significance for the DPCR. Similarly to sacred sites, Gamla Torget 3 can therefore be seen as “indivisible good” which cannot be divided without diminishing it’s value (Frieden et al. 2016: 127). Conflicts over such territory are particularly hard to resolve since the bargaining space is very limited (cf. Toft 2014). However, in this case the university administration has way more resources and thus, far more leverage. Nonetheless, “hope is not lost today…it is found” (Princess Leia, Episode VII) and the DPCR has a variety of options to increase its bargaining space. Due to the open-minded stance of Uppsala University, research suggests a success of unconventional political strategies is likely (cf. Chenoweth and Cunningham 2013). Thereby, it is important to compel loyalty shifts between parts of the university administration (cf. Stephan and Chenoweth 2008), for instance by bringing the issue to the attention of persons at the higher management level. Moreover, wide-spread and cross-cutting mobilization is required to evoke public attention and hence, audience costs for university administration (ibid.). Bringing in media and organizing visible protest are therefore key for a successful non-violent campaign. Finally, to resolve the conflict peacefully, it is always an option to divide apparently indivisible goods (Frieden et al. 2016: 132). For instance, the lecture halls at Gamla Torget 3 could get transformed into study areas which would benefit the DPCR students but also the university administration which is in desperate need of more of such areas. 

In conclusion, it will be interesting to see whether the non-violent struggle by the DPCR students does succeed, as 53% of non-violent campaigns globally did (cf. Stephan and Chenoweth 2008). This post  aimed to shed light on the central actors and interactions in this asymmetrical conflict, full of intrigues between students, university and greedy government agencies. However, further research is required to scrutinize the underlying mechanism linking a small department’s efforts for resources to the structural problems in the swedish educational system. 


Chenoweth, Erica and Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham (2013). “Understanding nonviolent resistance: An introduction.” Journal of Peace Research 50(3): 271-276. 

Frieden, Jery A., David A. Lake, and Kenneth A. Schultz (2016). World politics interests, interactions, institutions. Third. New York ; London: W.W. Norton & Company. isbn: 978-0-393-28352-5. 

Goscinny, René (1961): Asterix the Gaul. Paris: Dargaud. 

Niskanen, William A. (1971): Bureaucracy and Representative Government. Aldine, Atherton. 

Stephan, Maria. J. and Erica Chenoweth (2008). “Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict.” International Security 33(1): 7-44. 

Toft, Monica Duy (2014). “Territory and war”. Journal of Peace Research 51(2): 185-198. issn: 0022-3433 1460-3578. doi: 10.1177/0022343313515695.