Thesis subject

Solidarity as a way of framing relations and collaborations between civil society organizations in development

Solidarity is an increasingly popular term among development organizations, as a way to describe their relations with social groups and organizations that they work with – primarily speaking about their way of relating to people facing challenges like vulnerability and marginalization.

Background information

Solidarity is a complex concept, that takes multiple forms in theory and practice. Some understandings connote social cohesion, entailing moral obligation across group members (Scholz, 2008). In the development sector, rather, notions of solidarity are commonly used as referring to ‘standing with’ oppressed, marginalized and vulnerable groupings. In some cases, it is rather understood not as ‘helping’ through that ‘standing with’, but to ‘work together’ to face a shared challenge together. Often, however, solidarity is not explicitly conceptualized,
functioning rather as a buzzword used to invoke a relation, and mobilize and
legitimize multiple forms of action and support.

However, and here is a main catch: solidarity in the context of civil society relations in development typically connotes relations across differences, in particular power differentials, with the more powerful describing their solidarity in terms of support to the less powerful. Some authors on the topic have also used the concept of solidarity with reference to the centrality of Southern CSOs' agency, understandings, and agendas as starting points for collaboration (Deveaux, 2021; Garbe, 2022). Outsiders like International NGOs can then take supportive and complementary roles from that stance (Deveaux, 2021; van Wessel et al., 2021). Solidarity can, for example, mean exerting pressure for a Southern-led campaign internationally, or supporting Southern social movements’ self-identified goals and helping to facilitate their actions (Deveaux, 2019; Garbe, 2022). At the same time, this literature acknowledges how solidarity can be rooted in and sustain inequality, by reproducing the power of the privileged as standing above those they supposedly ' stand with'. Literature therefore points to the need for deep reflection among the privileged on the nature of the relations. (Garbe, 2022; Wilson, 2017). This project seeks to learn how international development organizations address these issues or not, in their usage of the concept and their reflections on it. What does solidarity mean in practice? What are implications for relations?

Practical information

Starting date: Flexible
Preferred language: English
Location/country: Netherlands/multi-sited (involving online interviews internationally and face-to-face interviews in the Netherlands.
Supervisor(s)/contact person: Margit van Wessel (COM).

Research question

How do international NGOs work in development frame, advance and enact ‘solidarity’ as a foundation for their relations with civil society organizations in low and lower-middle income countries? With what implications for these relations?

Type of research activities

Document analysis, interviews.

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