Session Submission Summary

Direct link:

Civil Society and Authoritarianism: Effects on NGOs and Coping Strategies

Wed, July 11, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Room, 14A 33

Session Submission Type: Panel


How do NGOs/NPOs survive in environments that are unfriendly towards civil society? How do the organizations manage to keep their core values and their civicness although non-democratic regimes or those characterized as authoritarian populism are directly or implicitly forcing them to blindly submit to authority? Answers to these important questions are still outstanding, but they raise core issues about the “embeddedness” (Granovetter,1985) of civil society. In authoritarian settings, the political “regime” distances itself significantly from parts of society, which then form reservoirs of support for NGOs that represent and defend their values, providing room for organizational resilience despite unfavorable circumstances.
Interactions between NGOs and their communities then move into the center of attention. But, strategies of resilience have also to be written into the so-called script of the organization as such. Leadership has to skillfully maneuver NGOs through troubled waters by pursuing an alternative institutional logic enabling the NGO to attract and maintain community support.

The papers in this panel provide a hands-on experience of resilient NGOs in Asia, the Caucasus, Middle East and Latin America. Kumar et al. analyze organizational responses and adaptations to authoritarian pressures in Egypt and India. They suggest that NGOs aim to retain autonomy and legitimacy by offering a counter-logic drawing on either global rights discourses or local community needs against the state’s claims of national interest. In Armenia, independent civil society faces both tighter financial and operational control by the government and a growing encroachment by government-, business- and Russian-influenced quasi-NGOs into their space. Armine Ishkanian and colleagues analyze the coping mechanisms and strategies of both formal NGOs and informal civil society activities to preserve agency in the face of these developments. Using the Wenchuan earthquake response as a case study, Jiangang Zhu focuses on interorganizational collaborations and strategic alliances as a coping mechanism. Appe and colleagues, at last, use their analyses of adaptive strategies employed by civil society organizations in Ecuador to draw broad lessons that may have wider applicability even in the Global North.

Sub Unit

Individual Presentations

Session Organizer