The emergence of NGOs as actors on the world stage

Authored by: Norbert Götz

Routledge Handbook of NGOs and International Relations

Print publication date:  April  2019
Online publication date:  April  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138285507
eBook ISBN: 9781315268927
Adobe ISBN:


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‘Non-governmental organization’ (NGO) is a technical term of international relations that had its breakthrough with the Charter of the United Nations (UN) in 1945. It has come into wider use through the UN system, despite the variety of meanings it carries there, although it has in the past decades – on many informal and sometimes formal occasions – been superseded by the term ‘civil society organization’ (CSO). Other contexts of international relations add to a contradictory picture. For example, in development discourse, NGOs may be distinguished from allegedly more radical and authentic grassroots organizations (GROs), but also, with the opposite tendency, from the private voluntary organizations (PVOs) that provide aid and are run by Western donors. When contrasted with government agencies, NGOs appear to be bottom-up organizations and idea-driven forces for good, but when compared with voluntary associations or social movements, they tend to be understood as technocratic tools of global governance. In contrast to often broadly conceived ‘non-state actors’, ‘non-governmental organizations’ are customarily restricted to the secular, professionally run, and transnationally involved segment of civil society. However, both expressions are lexically based on a similar negation that leaves a considerable range of alternatives. Thus, academic, business, criminal, or religious organizations are occasionally subsumed under the term NGO.

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