Agents of Change? Critical IR, Foreign Aid and Political Consciousness in Palestinian Education

Dissertation Author: Melanie Meinzer

Year: 2017

Abstract: Critical international relations (IR) theory maintains that foreign aid distances civil society organizations from grassroots social movements. However, I maintain that Palestinian civic organizations that use community-based education can raise marginalized groups’ political awareness, and help them resist oppression. I use 43 original in-depth interviews with Palestinian educational NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs), donors, and Palestinian students, and original survey data from 240 Palestinians living in the West Bank to examine how educational organizations use foreign aid to raise Palestinians’ political consciousness as a basis for resisting the Israeli occupation. These aid- receiving organizations preserve their grassroots connections through community education, which uses participatory learning to raise political awareness and teach activism. Contrary to critical IR’s theorization of NGOs as servants of donor interests, aid-funded civic groups can exercise subversive agency to conscientize the oppressed. Theorizing aid recipients’ agency helps us understand how international intervention can both constrain and empower political action in the global south.