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Norwegian NGOs’ engagement with state governmentality

  • Interlife school of research and development studies
    Andrei Marin

What exactly are we a part of now? Article by Sverre Ofstad & Andrei Marin in Forum for Development Studies

Norwegian NGOs’ engagement with state governmentality

Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) have risen to the forefront of the development sector. Yet, for a group of development actors that are explicitly non-governmental, it is conspicuous that their rise to prominence owes itself to state funding. This conundrum has spurred a debate about whether NGOs represent the poor and marginalized, or the states that fund them. This debate is highly topical today as donor states increasingly conflate development policy with other policy fields, a process that derives at least in part from the reforms in the humanitarian sector toward the current ‘new humanitarianism’. The article contributes to this debate by exploring the power relationship between Norwegian humanitarian NGOs and the Norwegian state. Based on interviews with 10 Norwegian NGOs and analyses of relevant grey literature, the article provides insight into the mechanisms through which the state and NGOs influence each other. The findings show that the state shapes NGOs by prioritizing funding for certain activities and geographical areas, and by orienting NGO activities towards 'professionalism' and quantifiable targets. NGOs, however, are not passive, but continuously try to mold their relationship with the state in several ways. Nonetheless, the new humanitarianism is inserting a new rationality into the Norwegian aid system, whereby NGOs need to reorient their activities to achieve security and foreign policy objectives. As a result, many Norwegian NGO workers find their activities can be easier compromised when they are forced to reproduce a discourse and rationality that aims to conflate humanitarianism, with development policy and foreign policy. 

Read more in the Forum for Development Studies

Keywords: Governmentality, Norwegian, NGO, state, Foucault, new humanitarianism
Published 22. March 2019 - 11:34 - Updated 22. March 2019 - 13:04