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Rethinking Intervention and Interventionism

Magazine article
Authors Linnéa Gelot
Fredrik Söderbaum
Published in Development Dialogue
Volume 2012
Issue 58
Pages 131-150
ISSN 0345-2328
Publication year 2012
Published at Gothenburg Centre for Globalization and Development (GCGD)
School of Global Studies
Pages 131-150
Language en
Subject categories Globalization Studies


This article argues that ‘the problem of intervention’ cannot be divorced from its external political origins. A significant portion of research in the field shows that interventions have all too often been based on an insufficient understanding of the surrounding context, and on an external definition of the problem these interventions set out to solve. As many have noted, interventions are often designed for purposes other than solving the problems of those described as ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘targets’ (Rubinstein 2005; Richmond 2011). We argue that there is a need to rethink external interventions in general and what occurs in the encounter between interveners and those ‘intervened upon’ in particular. Indeed, determinations of the success or failure of interventions are partial unless they take seriously the role of local dynamics and cultural meaning systems that inform social action as well as the power relations between interveners and those intervened upon. This article constitutes our first step in outlining what such a ‘rethinking’ implies theoretically and conceptually.

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