2018 Student-Organized Conference

The Fifth Annual Student-Organized Global Affairs Conference

“Power and Culture in Foreign Aid: Beyond the Savior Complex”

Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, USA

January 23-25, 2018


  • Eleanor Eagan ‘18 
  • Vignesh Ramachandran ‘18

This year’s conference will examine how cultural hegemony has allowed powerful states to construct a language of universalism that perpetuates old systems of power and influence under the guise of pursuit of the common good. 

In Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci theorized cultural hegemony at the state level, but his conception of hegemony has applications for the study of international relations. Powerful states expand their domestic hegemony outwards into the international arena using international organizations to facilitate expansion, legitimize their power, and absorb counter-hegemonies. In this conception, the construction of hegemony relies not only on violent force and economic dominance, but on a process by which the powerful change the way the dominated think. 

The hegemony of ideology is dangerous in that it operates undetected; the hegemon’s interests are made to be neutral. This conference aims to open conversations about how neutral discourse is anything but, bringing attention to the ways in which it validates some ideas and marginalizes others, which in turn encodes superiority and inferiority. This process is especially evident in the international aid industry. The speakers have all produced work that in some way challenges the myth of neutrality in the realm of human rights discourse, development and humanitarian aid. They take up such questions as: Is there a universal language of human rights?  Are international institutions ever neutral? How much good does aid do? How does it perpetuate perceptions of superiority and inferiority? 

Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs
Robert A. Jones 59 House
148 Hillcrest Road
Middlebury, VT 05753