A Manual for Non-Violent Resistance

STUDENT Taraneh Meshkani, University of Toronto

This thesis is concerned with empowering the resistance of sociopolitical movements and their relationship to time and space. At the beginning of the 21st century, grassroots resistance tends to happen in urban settings, challenging the authority of totalitarian regimes. In this context, space plays an important role: spaces of defiance are critical in any power struggle. They can be utilized and activated by both sides of the conflict–governments and opposition movements.

This thesis provides a spatiotemporal analysis of non-violent resistance, situating the practice in the sociopolitical sphere of Iran throughout its history. In analyzing spaces of defiance, Meshkani has chosen non-violent methods of resistance, in particular the 198 methods of non-violent action articulated by Gene Sharp. These methods can be categorized into three different groups.

Firstly, there are methods which look at the possibility of creating extreme multitudes in spaces of defiance. For example, a civic protest becomes a powerful manifestation of the political agenda of the resistance when it goes beyond a specific number of people. After a certain number, it reaches the tipping point and then it becomes difficult to control. In order to meet this critical mass, we need to know the optimal time to take to the streets, and the particularities of the spaces that are host to the demonstrations.

Secondly, there are other methods of non-violent action which use the city as a stage for communicating the message of the movement. Wearing symbols, and using paint and light are some examples of methods that can be adopted.

Thirdly, a set of methods can be employed to communicate and disseminate information. Most of the means of communication and mass media are controlled by governments. Totalitarian governments also shut down any alternative means of communication that rely on the infrastructure of the city. If the resistance cannot communicate and disseminate information, there is no way to reach critical mass and orchestrate groups of people. Since in totalitarian systems the government controls mass media sources such as television, radio and newspapers, people must then rely on non-substantial means of communication for informing each other about upcoming events.

Ultimately, Meshkani’s goal in this thesis is to analyze spaces of defiance and implement all the technologies and new types of media available to enhance the spatial aspect of the conflicts.

JC: Even though these analyses are based in Iran, the lessons learned could be applied to a better understanding of how the technologies of the information age are affecting social behaviours in our urban centres.

AK: This is radical activity. Rather brilliantly, this project does not come close to proposing a building. Instead, it proposes direct ideological action within a highly critical understanding of the city. It can possibly be seen as beyond or at least outside of architecture, part of some broader interdisciplinary experiment not pertinent to current pedagogy or practice. It is in fact the opposite, a call to arms to designers, a manifesto pointing to spatial territory we have long since acquiesced to artists, theorists and activists. Within the academic context, it does what a thesis project should do–it expands our notion of how and where architecture should act, it points to our inadequacies and failed aspirations, and to the increasingly reduced radii of our circular world. In fundamentally questioning where architecture resides, this work is ideological, political and embedded in urbanity.

JL: This is an incredible thesis that asks how an architect can deploy a strategy of protest and civic engagement through an elastic, creative application of architectural tools. What one immediately starts to think about as a result of this work is how the spatiotemporal manual can be applied to other ways within our profession so that we can all become better at consciously engaging in great city-building.