Accepted Paper:

Technocratic responses to social organization? From NGOs' managerial capital to the standardization of revolutions  


Theodora Vetta (Universitat de Barcelona)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will focus on standardization and isomorphic processes within NGOs as models of social organization in Serbia. I will first address questions of power entanglements around the introduction and endurance of technocratic standards and managerial techniques and then critically discuss ‘NGO-ization’ theories of political struggles

Paper long abstract:

This paper will tackle processes of standardization of social organizational models in the context of democracy-interventions in Serbia, a locus where hundreds of 'civil society programs' have been put in place by the international donor community as a way to foster democratic participation, active citizenship and post-conflict reconciliation. Albeit their failures or success, these programs have certainly resulted in what has been called an 'associational revolution', i.e. in the proliferation of local NGOs sharing a very particular and standardized organizational structure and culture. Standardization has come along with professionalization and bureaucratization whereas the introduction of standardized techniques such as managerial practices, analytical toolkits and project-making have deeply influenced the NGOs' patterns of knowledge-production and concrete interventions in social realities.

The first part of the paper will address questions of power relations among different social actors in the production and reproduction of standardization processes. Far from univocal relations of domination between powerful donors and passive recipients, standardization has created a technocratic capital with both symbolic and material dimensions and consequences, such as local elite-production. Standardization doesn't simply aim in audit and control, but also serves as a powerful strategic resource for social mobility and status.

The second part of the paper will continue an ongoing discussion on the 'NGO-ization' of political struggle. What new insights can we gain from an ethnographic case where activism and dissidence is part of a powerful claim-making discourse and where the making (and standardization) of revolutions is seen as the best export-product of the country?

Panel IW002
Standards and the quest for technocratic certainty