“I would have loved it as a gift when I was a teenage rebel … “

Jon Lockwood, Peace News

Theories

Big-picture ideas that help us understand how the world works and how we might go about changing it.

Action logic

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Your actions should speak for themselves. They should make immediate, natural sense to onlookers. They should have an obvious logic to the outside eye.


Alienation effect

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The alienation effect was Brecht’s principle of using innovative theatrical techniques to “make the familiar strange” in order to provoke a social-critical audience response.


Anti-oppression

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Anti-oppression practice provides a framework for constructively addressing and changing oppressive dynamics as they play out in our organizing.


Capitalism

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Capitalism is a profit-driven economic system rooted in inequality, exploitation, dispossession and environmental destruction.


Commodity fetishism

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There is nothing natural or inevitable about money, debt, property rights, or markets; they are symbolic systems that derive their efficacy from collective belief. Activists should inspire radical hope by exposing the mutability of these social relationships.


Cultural hegemony

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Politics is not only fought out in state houses, workplaces or on battlefields, but also in the language we use, the stories we tell, and the images we conjure — in short, in the ways we make sense of the world.


Debt revolt

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Today’s class consciousness falls increasingly along debtor-creditor lines rather than worker-capitalist lines.


Dunbar’s number

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Dunbar’s number refers to the approximate number of primary, care-based relationships people can maintain. The concept carries interesting implications for navigating the leap from organizing among friends to organizing under formal structures.


Environmental justice

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By exposing the connections between social justice and environmental issues we can most effectively challenge abuses of power that disproportionately target indigenous and other economically and politically disenfranchised communities.


Ethical spectacle

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To be politically effective, activists need to engage in spectacle. By keeping to certain principles, our spectacles can be ethical, emancipatory, and faithful to reality.


Expressive and instrumental actions

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Political action tends to be driven by one of two different motivations: expressing an identity, and winning concrete changes. It’s important to know the difference, and to strike a balance between the two.


Floating signifier

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An empty or “floating” signifier is a symbol or concept loose enough to mean many things to many people, yet specific enough to galvanize action in a particular direction.


Framing

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In the words of media researcher Charlotte Ryan, “A frame is a thought organizer, highlighting certain events and facts as important, and rendering others invisible.” Framing a message correctly can make or break an entire campaign.


Hamoq and hamas

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Turning anger into action is necessary to move the powers that be, but that anger is most effective when it is disciplined and intelligently focused (hamas). Uncontrolled, stupid anger (hamoq) mostly undermines your own cause.


Hashtag politics

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Your action or campaign doesn’t just send a message, it convenes a conversation. By strategically defining the hashtag and curating the ensuing conversation, you can expand and deepen your support base.


Intellectuals and power

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Intellectuals should use their specialized knowledge to expose the machinations of power, utilize their position in institutions to amplify the voices of people struggling against oppression, and work tirelessly to reveal the ways that they themselves are agents of power.


Memes

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Memes (rhymes with “dreams”) are self-replicating units of cultural information that spread virally from mind to mind, network to network, generation to generation.


Narrative power analysis

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All power relations have a narrative dimension. Narrative power analysis is a systematic methodology for examining the stories that abet the powers that be in order to better challenge them.


Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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An approach to education that aims to transform oppressive structures by engaging people who have been marginalized and dehumanized and drawing on what they already know.


Pillars of support

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Power stems not just from a ruler’s ability to use force, but from the consent and cooperation of the ruled, which can be voluntarily and nonviolently withdrawn by identifying, targeting and undermining the ruler’s “pillars of support” — the institutions and organizations that sustain its power.


Points of intervention

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A point of intervention is a physical or conceptual place within a system where pressure can be put to disrupt its smooth functioning and push for change.


Political identity paradox

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Group identity offers embattled activists a cohesive community, but also tends to foster a subculture that can be alienating to the public at large. Balancing these two tendencies is crucial to sustaining the work of an effective group, organization or movement.


Revolutionary nonviolence

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Revolutionary nonviolence emphasizes unity among radicals and proposes a militant nonviolent praxis based on revolutionary transformation and mass civil resistance.


Society of the spectacle

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Modern capitalism upholds social control through the spectacle, the use of mass communications to turn us into consumers and passive spectators of our own lives, history and power.


Temporary autonomous zone

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An alternative to traditional models of revolution, the T.A.Z is an uprising that creates free, ephemeral enclaves of autonomy in the here-and-now.


The commons

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Our common wealth — the shared bounty that we inherit and create together — precedes and surrounds our private wealth. By building a system that protects and expands our common wealth rather than one that exploits it, we can address both our ecological and social imbalances.


The propaganda model

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The propaganda model seeks to explain the behavior of news media operating within a capitalist economy. The model suggests that media outlets will consistently produce news content that aligns with the interests of political and economic elites.


The shock doctrine

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Pro-corporate neoliberals treat crises such as wars, coups, natural disasters and economic downturns as prime opportunities to impose an agenda of privatization, deregulation, and cuts to social services.


The social cure

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People are more likely to be motivated to action by peer groups than by information or appeals to fear. The social cure is a method of harnessing this power of social groups for social change.


The tactics of everyday life

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Tactics are not a subset of strategy, but a democratic response to it.


Theater of the Oppressed

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Theater of the Oppressed provides tools for people to explore collective struggles, analyze their history and present circumstances, and then experiment with inventing a new future together
through theater.