The Activities of Feminist Non-governmental Organizations in Delhi. An Anthropological Case Study

PhD defended at: 

Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland


Anna Romanowicz



The Activities of Feminist Non-Governmental Organizations in Delhi. An Anthropological Case Study is based on an intensive fieldwork in selected non-governmental organizations in Delhi. The author deploys participant observation in remarkably self-reflexive manner where she is both a researcher and subject. She additionally provides data collected via interviews and analysis of documents produced by the NGOs. Declared mission of these organizations was to end sex-trafficking and prostitution, understood as social evils. The author describes the ways in which development performed in and by non-governmental-organizations serves as a tool for reinforcing and upgrading social standing of their employees. She argues that the NGO environment gives a particular opportunity to middle class members whose cultural and economic capitals are being (re)produced in such an environment. She comes to the conclusion that ineffectiveness of development lies in the interest of this group. Moreover, she argues that class status is the most important factor in acquiring a job position in a contemporary NGO, and that it cuts across gender, caste, nationality, as well as other identities. The author claims that Indian employees and volunteers from ‘the West’ form transnational middle class who carry forward the logic of contemporary capitalism. Development work by modern NGOs is a way to expand capitals in neoliberal era.
This dissertation provides an innovative approach to issues of development and modernization. Most literature with (post)development studies focuses on ‘beneficiaries’ of developmental activities. Very few scholars analyze the role of development professionals in these processes. More importantly, the attention is being paid to (re)creation of ideas within (of) development than the actors and their motivations. The Activities of Feminist Non-Governmental Organizations in Delhi. An Anthropological Case Study attempts to fill this gap. The author asks questions on how and why development is being practiced rather than what development means. She focuses on the actors (professionals in NGOs) and argues that employing categories of development and empowerment is an element of creating middle class identity. She explores how these issues are negotiated in everyday practices in the third sector. The author demonstrates that practices of NGOs are not some face-less discourses. She does so in applying class analysis in Bourdieu’s approach, arguing that although class analysis has been in decline since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it offers very interesting analytical perspective. The dissertation was awarded summa cum laude by both peer-reviewers.

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