Privilege and Nonviolent Intervention in the Context of Empire

Presented at the Peace and Justice Studies Association National Peace & Justice Conference, Oct. 6–9, 2005, at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana.

Based on parts of my thesis and co-authored with Prof. Lee Smithey of Swarthmore College.

Update: A much-revised version of this article has been accepted for publication in an upcoming edition of the journal Peace & Change. Please use it for any citations.


When third-party nonviolent intervention is undertaken by people with relative privilege, it runs the risk of failing to empower the local movements they aim to assist. They may indeed disempower to some extent those they seek to support by injecting racist or classist dynamics, however subtly, into the struggle itself. By relying on status attached to the economic, cultural, and military dominance of the Global North, nonviolent intervention organizations can facilitate a relationship of dependency that may have short-term strategic advantages but that is less likely to promote the nonviolent empowerment of local movements. Sensitivity training within intervention organizations may help activists strategize in ways that avoid some of the pitfalls of operating from a position of privilege.

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