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Surreptitious Symbiosis: Engagement Between Activists and NGOs

Abstract

Based on research conducted in Athens, Cairo, London and Yerevan, the article analyzes the relationship between activists engaged in street protests or direct action since 2011 and NGOs. It examines how activists relate to NGOs and whether it is possible to do sustained activism to bring about social change without becoming part of a ‘civil society industry.’ The article argues that while at first glance NGOs seem disconnected from recent street activism, and activists distance themselves from NGOs, the situation is more complicated than meets the eye. It contends that the boundaries between the formal NGOs and informal groups of activists are blurred and there is much cross-over and collaboration. The article demonstrates and seeks to explain this phenomenon, which we call surreptitious symbiosis, from the micro- perspective of individual activists and NGO staff. Finally, we discuss whether this surreptitious symbiosis can be sustained and sketch three scenarios for the future.

Résumé

Se fondant sur des recherches menées à Athènes, Le Caire, Londres et Erevan, cet article analyse la relation entre des activistes, engagés dans des manifestations de rue ou l’action directe depuis 2011, et les ONG. Il étudie les liens entre ces activisites et les ONG et interroge la possibilité de militer de manière pérenne sans pour autant faire partie d’une « industrie de la société civile » . Si de prime abord les ONG semblent déconnectées de l’activisme de rue et que les activistes prennent soin de se distancier des ONG, l’article fait valoir que la situation est plus compliqueé qu’il n’y parait. Les limites entre les ONG officielles et les groupes informels d’activistes sont floues et les liens comme les collaborations nobreux. L’article détaille ce phénomène, que nous appelons symbiose clandestine, et cherche à l’expliquer au moyen d’une microsociologie centrée sur les individus inpliqués dans ce type d’activisme. Nous discutons en dernier lieu de la possibilité que cette symbiose clandestine se pérennise, et esquissons trois scénarios pour l’avenir.

Zusammenfassung

Beruhend auf Forschungen in Athen, Kairo, London und Eriwan analysiert der Beitrag die Beziehung zwischen Aktivisten, die seit 2011 an Straßenprotesten oder direkten Aktionen beteiligt sind, und nicht-staatlichen Organisationen. Es wird untersucht, in welcher Beziehung Aktivisten zu nicht-staatlichen Organisationen stehen und ob es möglich ist, einen nachhaltigen Aktivismus zur Bewirkung eines sozialen Wandels zu verfolgen, ohne Teil einer „Bürgergesellschaftsindustrie“zu werden. In dem Beitrag wird dargelegt, dass nicht-staatliche Organisationen auf dem ersten Blick zwar nicht mit dem jüngsten Straßenaktivismus in Verbindung zu stehen scheinen und auch Aktivisten sich von nicht-staatlichen Organisationen distanzieren, die Situation jedoch komplizierter ist als zunächst angenommen. Es wird behauptet, dass die Grenzen zwischen den formellen nicht-staatlichen Organisationen und informellen Aktivistengruppen verschwommen sind und häufig überquert werden und beide Seiten zusammenarbeiten. Der Beitrag legt dieses Phänomen, das wir als schleichende Symbiose bezeichnen, dar und versucht, es aus der Mikroperspektive individueller Aktivisten und Mitarbeiter nicht-staatlicher Organisationen zu erklären. Abschließend diskutieren wir, ob diese schleichende Symbiose erhaltbar ist und entwerfen drei Zukunftsszenarien.

Resumen

Basándose en investigaciones realizadas en Atenas, Cairo, Londres y Ereván, el artículo analiza la relación entre los activistas implicados en protestas callejeras o acción directa desde 2011 y las ONG. Examina cómo los activistas se relacionan con las ONG y si es posible realizar activismo prolongado para lograr el cambio social sin llegar a ser parte de una “industria de la sociedad civil”. El artículo argumenta que aunque, a primera vista, las ONG parecen desconectadas del activismo callejero reciente, y los activistas se distancian de las ONG, la situación es más complicada que lo que se ve a simple vista. Sostiene que los límites entre las ONG formales y los grupos informales de activistas son borrosos y que existe mucho intercambio y colaboración. El artículo demuestra y trata de explicar este fenómeno, que llamamos simbiosis subrepticia, desde la micro-perspectiva de los activistas individuales y el personal de las ONG. Finalmente, analizamos si esta simbiosis subrepticia puede ser prolongada y esbozamos tres escenarios para el futuro.

Chinese

基于在雅典、开罗、伦敦和耶烈万进行的研究,本文分析了自2011年起参与街头抗议或直接行动的激进分子与NGO之间的关系。其中解释了激进分子如何与NGO相关,以及是否可以维持激进主义以带来社会变革,而不成为“民间团体行业”的一部分。本文认为,尽管NGO乍一看似乎与最近的街头激进主义分离,激进分子将其与NGO拉开距离,但是实际情况显然更加复杂。它认为,正式NGO和非正式激进分子小组之间的界线正变得模糊,并存在交叉和协作。本文展示并寻求解释这一现象,我们称之为秘密共生,从单个激进分子和NGO员工的微观视角。最后,我们讨论了这一秘密共生是否可以持续,并描绘了未来的三种情景。

Japanese

本論文では、アテネ、カイロ、ロンドン、エレバンで実施した調査に基づいて、 2011 年以降の街頭デモ、直接行動を実施する活動家と NGO の関係を分析する。 NGO の活動家がどのように関係しているか、「市民社会領域」の一部にはならずに変化をもたらして、持続的な運動を行うことが可能かどうかを調査する。本論文では、一見 NGO が近年の街頭運動と関わりがないように思われるが、活動家は NGO から距離を置いており、状況は目にするよりも複雑である。正式な NGO と非公式なグループの活動間の境界はぼやけており、多くのクロスオーバーとコラボレーションがあると主張している。本論文では、個人の活動家と NGO スタッフのマイクロからの観点を通して、不正な共生と呼ばれるこの現象を提示して説明する。最後にこの不正な共生が持続か否かを議論して、将来のための 3 つのシナリオの概略を説明する。

Arabic

بناءا˝ على أبحاث أجريت في أثينا، القاهرة، لندن ويريفان تحلل المقالة العلاقة بين نشطاء شاركوا في إحتجاجات الشارع أو العمل المباشر منذ عام 2011 والمنظمات الغير حكومية (NGOs). إنها تفحص كيف أنه هناك رابط بين النشطاء و المنظمات الغير حكومية (NGOs) وما إذا كان من الممكن أن يقوموا بنشاط متواصل لإحداث التغيير الاجتماعي دون أن يصبحوا جزءا˝ من “صناعة المجتمع المدني”. تجادل المقالة إنه في حين للوهلة الأولى تبدو المنظمات الغير حكومية (NGOs) منفصلة عن نشاط الشارع مؤخرا˝، و يبعدون أنفسهم عن نشطاء المنظمات الغير حكومية (NGOs)، إن الوضع أكثر تعقيدا˝ مما قد يبدو للعيان. تجادل أن الحدود بين المنظمات الغيرحكومية (NGOs) الرسمية و مجموعات من الناشطين الغير رسمية غير واضحة وهناك الكثير من العبور مرارا˝ والتعاون. يبرهن المقال ويسعى إلى تفسير هذه الظاهرة، التي نسميها تعايش خلسة، من وجهة نظر صغيرة من نشطاء فرديين وموظفي المنظمات الغير حكومية (NGOs). أخيرا˝، نحن نناقش ما إذا كان يمكن أن يستمر هذا التعايش خلسة ويرسم ثلاثة سيناريوهات للمستقبل.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We owe a great debt to Christina Psarra and MK (anonymized) for research assistance and translation in Athens and Cairo, respectively; to Irum S. Ali and Evelina Gyulkhandanyan for conducting some of the interviews in London and Yerevan respectively, and to Donna Middelkoop and Meta de Lange for transcription and anonymization of the interviews.

  2. 2.

    We provide the full transcripts as a resource for other scholars and as part of our commitment to increasing transparency in the social sciences without compromising obligations toward respondents. The transcripts are to be found at http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/60128/ and http://www.uva.nl/contact/medewerkers/item/m.e.glasius.html?f=glasius.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Irum S. Ali, Meta De Lange, Evelina Gyulkhandanyan, and Donna Middelkoop for their research assistance. We are also grateful to our colleagues Geoffrey Pleyers, Luc Fransen, John Grin, Jesse Hoffman, Marijn Hoijtink, Julien Jeandesboz, Chung-Lin Kwa, Anne Loeber, Polly Pallister-Wilkins, Yulia Poskakukhina, Lee Seymour, Imrat Verhoeven, and Darshan Vigneswaran for their valuable comments and feedback on earlier drafts of this article. This research was made possible through a grant by the Robert Bosch Foundation. The views expressed are our own and do not in any way represent the views or the official position or policy of the Robert Bosch Foundation.

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Correspondence to Armine Ishkanian.

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Glasius, M., Ishkanian, A. Surreptitious Symbiosis: Engagement Between Activists and NGOs. Voluntas 26, 2620–2644 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-014-9531-5

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Keywords

  • NGOs
  • Activism
  • Global civil society
  • Street protests
  • Occupy