Transnational Nonviolent Empowerment

Presented as my senior honors thesis for peace and conflict studies, Swarthmore College, May 2005.

This study investigates the emerging field of third-party nonviolent intervention, in which activists who are not involved in a particular conflict enter into that conflict to support and empower local individuals and movements in struggles for social change, justice and democracy. Utilizing theoretical developments in the nature of power, the structure of social movements and the role of advocacy, interventionists have the potential to aid indigenous social movements in achieving their aims without dictating to them the paths the movement should take. This is only possible if interventionists commit to an explicit and unequivocal training in their own rank and privilege, learning ways to employ that rank without reinforcing hegemonic oppression and structural racism.


I argue that a variety of techniques are available in different situations, but that interventionists must specifically strategize about their ideological role in the context of local movements. The question of how close they wish to align themselves to principles of solidarity, movements for democracy or even individual struggles will have a significant impact on the types of techniques available and the methods and effectiveness of their deployment.

Ultimately third-party intervention could mark a break from a hierarchical, didactic and oppressive history of intervention to a new epoch of solidarity and empowerment. This can only be accomplished, however, through ongoing reflection and analysis, a praxis combining on-the-ground implementation of training techniques and intervention, and continual and critical scrutiny with the input of the individuals and movements for whom this approach is intended to benefit.

Downloading a Copy

You can download the entire thesis (1.8 MB) in PDF format. You can also download the chapters individually in PDF format below. Soon I'll put up the full table of contents and bibliography on this page.

Summary of Chapter Topics

Front Matter: Title page; table of contents; preface.

Chapter 1: An introduction to third-party nonviolent intervention; Peace Brigades International, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Nonviolent Peaceforce, the International Solidarity Movement and Training for Change; a personal background; outline of the study.

Chapter 2: Theories of power; power as solidarity; relational power and power in collectivity; mobilization theory, political opportunity theory and repertoires of resistance; strategic intervention.

Chapter 3: Prior examples of intervention; transnational labor organizing; racism and progressive organizing; racism and nonviolent intervention; humanitarian intervention; the role of communications media; nationalism and identity.

Chapter 4: Changes in the international political order; the dominance of neoliberalism; a cultural approach to change; symbolic resistance and radical action; expanding the space for resistance; tactical methods of intervention; education and training of intervention teams; the decision-making process.

Chapter 5: The role of privilege in intervention; the role of sovereignty and international law in intervention; the implications of neoliberalism for strategy, publicity and cultural work; the use of local and transnational networks; the structure of intervention teams; highlighting efforts of empowerment.

Chapter 6: Measuring different levels of intervention; relationships between intervention, humanitarian work and direct action; the transparency of operations; debating the reliance on military pressure; the difference between principles, structures and practices.

Chapter 7: Conclusions; cultural work; empowerment.

Epilogue: Intervention in the contexts of the Ukraine and Darfur, Sudan.


Caveats and Entreaties

This was prepared for an academic audience with a significant background in sociological theory. Some of the chapters may therefore read as pretty dense. In addition, this thesis does not attempt to chronicle the history of intervention itself, only different interpretations of its implementation and strategy. In the future I would like to prepare a version more suited to general consumption, which would be lighter on the theory and centered more on the hundreds of incredible stories coming out of this field. Soon I will put up a list of links to other information about this kind of work, as well as an HTML version of the bibliography.

With that said, I would very much appreciate comments on this work. Please contact me or, better yet, leave a comment at the bottom of this entry.


The text and images in the thesis, like all content on this website, is released under a Creative Commons license. You may freely reproduce it for noncommercial work. Please attribute original authors (myself or those quoted in the text) and cite this website as the source.