Technicalities of doing good: NGOs and the administration of civil society in Namibia
The thesis analyses how NGOs define the meaning of civil society in Namibia through their everyday work. Based on 12 months fieldwork at the national umbrella for NGOs the thesis shows that this definition was mainly shaped by NGOs’ administration of the everyday rather than the outcome of ideological debates about how to “do good”. The thesis examines how dominant NGO practices reflect the basic tension between NGOs’ activists claims and the bureaucratic reality of their work and in doing so speaks to debates about NGO agency, accountability and their relevance for development. The thesis shows how organisations use formal criteria in reporting, networking, advocacy, fundraising and branding to continuously redefine what activism ought to be about and how “proper” civic organisations ought to behave. NGOs write reports to enhance their accountability and transparency, but the correct reporting form also delineates what counts as proper civic activism. They present networking as civil society’s main coordinating mechanism, but meetings always call for more coordination and hence additional meetings. Advocacy does not only concern the relations between civic organisations and the government, but NGOs also use these relations to justify surveillance and control within civil society. Competitive fundraising does not blindly follow donors’ demands, rather, through it NGOs create a canon of fundable and thus legitimate projects. Finally, the branding of civic activism is not simply concerned with the promotion of civil society organisations, but is seen as an attempt to create a unified corporate image with a sharp distinction between proper and improper civic activism. Struggles over meaning are therefore shifted into contestations around technicalities. The administration of the everyday in civil society thus becomes the prime means to decide how to “do good”.