Since NGOs organize social action at multiple scales and across multiple contexts simultaneously, many times as intermediaries, the study of the NGO form aids in understanding the intersections of political, economic, and cultural transformation, and the emergence of new forms of citizenship. While NGOs constitute a novel form of organization, the modes of engagement they foster are ultimately articulated to much older philanthropic, religious, and civic traditions rooted in the historical and cultural terrains of specific regions. This chapter introduces the main theoretical concepts, describes the primary field site for the study (the Tulancingo Valley of Mexico during and after Mexico's "democratic transition") and discusses the ethnographic methodology employed.
Mexico is considered part of a larger "Third Wave" of democratic transitions beginning in the late twentieth century. The growth of a "third sector" comprised of non-governmental organizations was promoted by both Mexican intellectuals and international observers as a laboratory for producing active democratic citizens. This chapter traces the historical development of the citizenship question in post-Independence Mexico, with particular attention to the ways in which rural denizens have been conceptualized as dependent subjects incapable of full participation in public life. It analyzes the ideal role of development NGOs in developing the capacity of marginalized groups to claim their rights as citizens and to participate in formal political processes, highlighting the complex relationships that develop in practice between these new organizational forms and earlier historical models of civic action and public morality.
This chapter examines the growth of Tulancingo's "third sector," from its origins in the late 1970's until the end of the Fox administration, through a case study of "Hidalgo Development" (HD). Founded in 1978, the organization's history is representative of the far-reaching changes that the country has experienced during the last three decades of neoliberal reforms. HD was initially allowed to carry out select development projects that were seen by some factions of the PRI and officials in the national and state governments to be in their own interests, as those projects were aimed at ameliorating the rural poverty that had led to violent land invasions in other regions of Hidalgo. The historical development of Tulancingo's NGO sector reveals important insights into the relationships between NGOs and the political class with whom they must remain intimately but uncomfortably engaged.
In the 1990s, Mexican campesinos came to be regarded as iconic victims of structural adjustment and free trade policies under the Washington Consensus. In Hidalgo the synergistic effects of North American economic integration, the privatization and corporatization of Mexican agriculture, and global climate change created new forms of political, economic, and social risk. This chapter examines the way climatic anomalies and anthropogenic hazards intersected with newly generated forms of social vulnerability to create a governmental disaster that served to foreclose traditional collective forms of political agency. The disaster was interpreted locally through discourse of desiccation, which diagnosed the premature death of the countryside as a result of human failures to maintain systems of reciprocity. The erosion of collective rural institutions ultimately created new challenges for NGOs seeking to cultivate rural citizens.
NGOs are accorded an important role in transforming the relationships between state and society, ostensibly producing new forms of citizenship distinct from traditional corporatism and clientelism. However, the way rural development NGOs operate—indeed, the role they attempt to create for themselves as existing somehow "in between" state, society, and market—remains closely tied to earlier historical forms of mediation. This chapter examines the relationship of Tulancingo NGOs to more traditional models of mediation associated with the clientelistic culture of the PRI, as well as newer entrepreneurial models promoted by global shifts in NGO management and international funding agendas. This chapter shows how Tulancingo NGO workers struggle to reconcile external pressures to act as self-interested entrepreneurs with an older moral order based on solidarity and reciprocity. Examining this complex relationship to past cultural forms reveals the limits that civil society institutions face in the neoliberal era.
Relationships with international partners have become increasingly crucial to the survival of many Southern NGOs in a difficult political and economic climate. The chapter reconsiders some unexamined assumptions embedded in the network metaphors that animate contemporary social theory, elucidating how transnational networks are enacted by situated social subjects as they rework extant cultural forms for use in new contexts, in turn imbuing institutional relationships with new meaning and value. I examine how Hidalgan NGO workers perform the cultural work necessary to conceptualize, fix, and maintain the relationships between these disparate groups of campesinos, activists, and professionals, by reworking local notions of solidarity and reciprocity to produce a sense of transnational kinship. The quality and configuration of intersubjective ties matters deeply to how people experience and enact structural transformations. The difficulty and indeterminacy of this work contradicts theories of globalization that assume spontaneously self-generating networks.
Over the last decade and a half, the once-radical notion of civil society "participation" as a tool for deepening democratic citizenship in Mexico has been re-appropriated to further the neoliberal aims of reducing the social role of the state. The growth of the sector that has come to be known as "organized civil society" has produced deep tensions between an assistential mode of civic action and more radical transformative projects. This tension is marked by contrasting the frames of citizenship and philanthropy through which NGO personnel interpret and articulate their experiences. This final chapter discusses the broader implications of these developments for understanding how the NGO form acts as a quasi-object and what role NGOs play in the cultivation of citizenship practices in neoliberal democracies.