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Future of NGO Studies Conference


Haiti NGOInterest 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: 

  • What can the discipline of anthropology distinctly bring to the study of NGOs?
  • What can NGO studies contribute to political and cultural anthropology more broadly?
  • What are the advantages and pitfalls of institutionalizing NGO Studies as a distinct field of anthropological inquiry?
  • Is there a canon of studies that defines the area of inquiry?
  • What new methodologies, theories, and critiques are needed to help us properly understand NGOs in all their diversity?
  • What analytical questions are raised about the category 'NGO' when its diverse manifestations and meanings are examined?
  • How can academic studies of NGOs support the pragmatic needs of practitioners and activists?
  • In what way can NGO practitioners and activists contribute to academic studies?
  • How should we approach the diverse epistemological standpoints of interested thinkers?
  • How should anthropologists negotiate issues of participation and distance in working with NGOs?