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Resistance as a Social Construct of Power

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
Throughout history, people have used different forms of resistance as a means of acquiring power. This lesson discusses what resistance is, how it has been used historically and provides specific examples of its use.

Resistance to Bullying

Jake went to school scared. Every day, as he walked down the street about two blocks from the school, an older boy met him, took his backpack, then took Jake's lunch. He didn't tell his parents because he was embarrassed and because the older boy told him not to. Jake wasn't the only victim though. Other kids in his class were harassed also.

Then one day, the smallest boy in the class told the bully no. He was beaten up, but he told the class it wasn't that bad. He also told a teacher why he had a bloody nose. The older boy got mad because he got in trouble, but he didn't stop. He did finally stop intimidating the younger children when they started walking together and refusing to give him anything. He hit a couple of them, but he stopped because he was worried they would gang up on him. The younger children learned that resistance can be an effective tool.

The History of Resistance

Resistance, a social construct (a mechanism that is defined by society), is defined as a group of people who in some way disrupt the accepted authority, whether that be the legal authority or an occupying force, in order to upset stability. Examples of resistance have occurred throughout history.

  • Rome experienced a slave revolt with Spartacus as the leader. Roman authority eventually quelled the resistance and crucified many of the principle actors.
  • Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, disagreed with the way the Roman Catholic church was leading. He famously nailed 95 statements (or theses) to the door or the Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany. His resistance to authority led to the Christian Protestant Reformation.
  • John Brown, an abolitionist (opponent of slavery) from Kansas, led a group of people to take control of an armory in what is now West Virginia. His purpose was not to personally use the arms to revolt but to keep what he believed was a corrupt government from using them. His action, along with others, helped bring about the American Civil War.
  • During the 1960s many groups staged sit-ins, marches and other acts of resistance against what they saw as the injustice of the US federal government. These actions led to civil rights legislation being signed by President Johnson.

There are much more examples of resistance in societies around the world. Sometimes that resistance was successful in its goal and many times it was not. However, resistance has often been used by societies to cause change.

Types of Resistance

When there needs to be a change or an adjustment in the power structure, groups within society determine how it is best to respond. Sometimes peaceful protest is the best way to exact change, but sometimes force is needed. Groups have used many different forms of resistance to gain power, such as:

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