Exploring the Nexus of Aesthetics, Agency and Peacebuilding

Max Stephenson and Laura Zanotti


In recent years, scholars pressing for an ‘aesthetic turn’ in international relations have explored artistic sensibility, micro interventions and the cultivation of reflexive attitudes. This article examines the aims and activities of two arts-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involved in United States (US) funded peacebuilding initiatives to identify how each crafts and presses its agendas and how each strives to encourage agency among its stakeholders. The authors conclude that while these NGOs’ efforts accord with aesthetic theorists’ arguments, they clash with their funders’ expectations.




Max Stephenson, Jr. serves as a Professor of Public and International Affairs and the Director of the Institute for Policy and Governance at Virginia Tech. His current research and teaching interests include collaborative governance and democratic politics, arts and community change processes, NGOs and international development, peacebuilding and humanitarian relief.


Laura Zanotti is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech.  Prior to becoming an academic Dr. Zanotti worked for about a decade at the United Nations.  Her research and teaching include critical political theory as well as international organizations, UN peacekeeping and NGOs.