Cultures of Doing Good//Anthropologists and NGOs

About the book

Anthropological field studies of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in their unique cultural and political contexts.

Cultures of Doing Good: Anthropologists and NGOs serves as a foundational text to advance a growing subfield of social science inquiry: the anthropology of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Thorough introductory chapters provide a short history of NGO anthropology, address how the study of NGOs contributes to anthropology more broadly, and examine ways that anthropological studies of NGOs expand research agendas spawned by other disciplines. In addition, the theoretical concepts and debates that have anchored the analysis of NGOs since they entered scholarly discourse after World War II are explained.

The wide-ranging volume is organized into thematic parts: “Changing Landscapes of Power,” “Doing Good Work,” and “Methodological Challenges of NGO Anthropology.” Each part is introduced by an original, reflective essay that contextualizes and links the themes of each chapter to broader bodies of research and to theoretical and methodological debates. A concluding chapter synthesizes how current lines of inquiry consolidate and advance the first generation of anthropological NGO studies, highlighting new and promising directions in this field.

In contrast to studies about surveys of NGOs that cover a single issue or region, this book offers a survey of NGO dynamics in varied cultural and political settings. The chapters herein cover NGO life in Tanzania, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Peru, the United States, and India. The diverse institutional worlds and networks include feminist activism, international aid donors, USAID democracy experts, Romani housing activism, academic gender studies, volunteer tourism, Jewish philanthropy, Islamic faith-based development, child welfare, women’s legal arbitration, and environmental conservation. The collection explores issues such as normative democratic civic engagement, elitism and professionalization, the governance of feminist advocacy, disciplining religion, the politics of philanthropic neutrality, NGO tourism and consumption, blurred boundaries between anthropologists as researchers and activists, and barriers to producing critical NGO ethnographies.


Amanda Lashaw is a visiting assistant professor in the education department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Christian Vannier is a lecturer in the departments of anthropology and Africana studies at the University of Michigan, Flint.

Steven Sampson is a professor emeritus of social anthropology at Lund University in Sweden.


“Cultures of Doing Good marks a new era of NGO scholarship, one that goes beyond shock at the NGO boom in the wake of neoliberal state retrenchments. Using the contributors’ vast and diverse experiences, it tells complex stories of humanitarianism in the twenty-first century and the challenges facing scholars trying to navigate this important sector with engagement and rigor.” —Heather Hindman, author of Mediating the Global: Expatria’s Forms and Consequences in Kathmandu and coeditor of Inside the Everyday Lives of Development Workers: The Challenges and Futures of Aidland



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