Interest in NGOs is rapidly growing among anthropologists. The American Anthropological Association's Special Interest Group on NGOs and Nonprofits is now the largest SIG, with over 1,000 members. Scholars are studying NGOs, nonprofits, and voluntary associations in connection with a vast array of cultural processes, including governance, social movements, professionalization, militarization, morality, religion, gender, neocolonialism, and neoliberal restructuring. The proliferation of studies is, on the one hand, advancing understanding of theoretical and practical issues by bringing scholars together to explore connections across diverse geographies and to debate the changing power and significance of NGOs. On the other hand, the immense number and diversity of nongovernmental organizations worldwide has produced a fragmented body of research and divergent styles of engagement by anthropologists, ranging from active participation to more traditional 'fly on the wall' fieldwork. Anthropologists practicing 'NGO-graphy' confront the question of whether NGOs comprise a coherent object of analysis. Collectively, we face conceptual, methodological and ethical issues that require more intensive discussion.
The purpose of this first anthropology of NGOs conference is to assess, define, refine, and invigorate the field of NGO studies as it applies to the anthropological community. We have received several proposals for panels, workshops, and presentations that can help develop the anthropology of nongovernmental organizations. Presentations should take on questions such as the following: