Research on NGOs

Here we continue the discussion that began in our 2010 symposium and adjoining virtual issue on NGOs.

To continue that conversation, in Spring 2011, we asked James Ferguson and Akhil Gupta to participate in an interview conducted by new PoLAR author Jennifer Curtis, whose article on NGOs in Ireland appeared in our November 2010 issue.

Ferguson and Gupta are known for their influential work on the contradictory effects of seemingly altruistic efforts to ‘develop’ or give aid to countries in the Global South–and on the effects of neoliberalism.

In 1990, James Ferguson wrote The Anti-Politics Machine: ‘Development’, Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho, which critiqued the way seemingly well-meaning development projects can function to whisk political problems out of sight while strengthening the state, often at the expense of people’s needs on the ground.

In 1995, Akhil Gupta’s article, “Blurred Boundaries: The Discourse of Corruption, the Culture of Politics, and the Imagined State,” challenged static images of state ‘corruption,’ which underestimate the variety of levels and inputs involved. Complaints that bureaucratic corruption is responsible for failures in development at local levels radically underestimate the complexity and complicity of other layers of the systems involved.

And, in 2002, Ferguson and Gupta together authored the article, “Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neoliberal Governmentality,” which encouraged anthropologists to look beyond notions of ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ states in assessing the complicated and ambivalent effects of global and ‘nongovernmental’ impacts on everyday lives. This permits a more fine-tuned understanding of how political change connects with people’s lived experiences.

The interview is available here.