NGS: Non Governmental Spaces

(Brief for MARA students 2008-2009)

The remaking of political spaces is not a technique confined to state agencies and within conventional national territories. This year MARA will consider The International as a field of operations that (simultaneously) inhabits spaces and conditions above and below the level of the state, across and through its boundaries, and in burrowed spaces within its porous surfaces.

International spaces are the major determinants of the social, economic and built environments in which a plurality of agents and a heterogeneous list of agencies grow and operate. Besides the United Nations these agents of spatial transformation include international monetary organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF (think of the urban effects of financial restructuring), international sport organizations such as IOC and FIFA (think of the control of these organizations exercise on host cities) multinational and private enterprises, and a wide multiplicity of NGOs.

The number of internationally operating NGOs is currently estimated at 40,000. The 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre alone was attended by representatives from more than 1,000 NGOs. These agents are not only operating within an international space ­ but rather help create it. They are mining and burrowing the space of the state in the creation of a complex and porous political landscapes ­ their zones of spatial agency are often beyond the reach of the states in which they operate.

There are many genealogies for the type of politics exercised by NGOs. It is clear however that their prominence have emerged in response to intersections of economic, technological, socio-cultural and political formative forces born of the economical crisis of the 1970s and the culture of privatization launched by Thatcher and Reagan at the turn of the1980s. Privatization gave also rise to a multiplicity of international “sovereignty-free actors” who positioned themselves on the international

stage engaging in actions previously reserved for states only.

The issues and mandates of NGOs range considerably: providing humanitarian

aid, protecting the environment, monitoring human rights and civil liberties violations, expanding public access to knowledge, or engaging in developmental and sustainability. Many NGOs often use the language of human rights to articulate politico-ethical claims in the name of a transnational public and in demanding for socio-political change.

On the other hand, critics have often argued that NGOs have also become a crucial part of a social technology of governance, exercising a form of soft imperialism that merely moderate and soften the excess of state action, fulfilling a similar function to that of the clergy during the high colonial era.  Indeed by shifting political energy towards the micro political and biopolitical (we shall certainly discuss these terms!) NGOs have arguably weakened popular movements.

During the 0809 academic year MARA will study the spatial dimension of NGO

operations ­ from the local/architectural through the urban to the geo-political. A spatial analysis of the complex territorial ways by which NGOs operate will enable us to gain set of critical reflections on new modes of politics and engagement.

Each member/pair will select an issue ­ pertaining to the environment, labor politics, humanitarianism and/or human rights ­ plot the field of international organizations that engage this issue, and then map the spatial operations of a single organization in relations to other institutions, governmental and non-governmental.

The result will form a seed for an Atlas of NonGovernmental Spaces.

This entry was posted on Friday, September 26th, 2008 at 12:32 pm
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