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Development, Democracy, and Disaster: What Can an Epidemic Reveal About Civil Society in Developing Countries?

Tue, July 10, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Room, 12A 33


Though organizations are “both sites and drivers for action” (Powell & Brandtner, 2016), international development research tends to neglect many of the sites and drivers of political and economic processes and relationships – organizations. However, organizations are the building blocks of markets and democracies, particularly in developing countries. Salamon & Anheier (1998) and Salamon & Sokoloski (2003) emphasize the embeddedness of the nonprofit sector in prior patterns of historical development and by the power of various social groups, however ambiguity about organizational forms is pervasive in third sector research (Clemens, 2006), and there is limited empirical data particularly on developing countries. Given the overarching presence of international aid organizations in the poorest developing countries, and on the other hand high levels of inequality in emerging economies, organizational theory offers an important lens into the sites and drivers for democracy and development, bolstering political economy approaches to the study of development and democracy. Sociological institutionalism provides an important paradigm into the emergence, behaviors, effectiveness, and relationships of civic organizations, as well as their relationship with the state and international donors.

My dissertation examines the emergence of civil society organizations and response to two natural disasters. It will compare the role of civil society organizations in democracy and development as well as the ecology of the third sector, during the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa as well as the 2015-2016 Zika epidemic in Brazil. An epidemic provides a critical juncture to look at collective action of civic organizations and non-profits, in the context of government failure or inability to respond to an epidemic. How does the interaction between organizations give rise to, shape, and reshape institutions, and how might this influence crisis response? The framework for my study will examine if there is more diversity of organizational forms and more specialization, once development and aid levels have reached a certain threshold. Some of the key questions in this analysis include reasons for founding and participation in associations, linkage of associations to political activity, as well as ties to elites, and how civic organizations are regulated by the state.

Third sector researchers note the importance of research on civic organizations and nonprofits in developing countries however are confronted with a lack of empirical data. This points to a need for qualitative approaches to be combined with quantitative methodology in order to produce well-informed rigorous cross-case examples. In a first methodological step, I combine quantitative analysis of Afrobarometer and Latinobarometer survey data concerning participation in voluntary and religious associations in areas confronted by an epidemic, to construct a difference-in-difference model. Second, I conduct interviews with 120 organizations in West Africa and 50 in Brazil, in large coastal cities as well as the historically marginalized epicenters of the epidemic.