Histories in Oblivion and Overlooked Lifeworlds. Alternative Perspectives on Non-Governmental Development Work in Africa


November 9th and 10th, 2017
Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main

Hans Peter Hahn – Melina C. Kalfelis – Kathrin Knodel (TP B 06)


NGO professionals in many countries of Sub-Saharan Africa experience and act within constantly insecure environments. While they try to meet the requirements of their mainly international financial partners (if present), they have to confront the harsh economic conditions of their own living; often, they are confronted with poverty themselves.

Despite these facts, many of the local development professionals manage to maintain the existence of their organization beyond the duration of a specific cooperation or project. Although their biographies and the organizations’ histories are marked by ups and downs, they dominantly mirror the actor’s competence to tactically act upon rapidly changing situations and thereby prove their organizations’ structural flexibility. Furthermore, the stories reflect the entanglements of the NGO workers with their social and economic environment, as well as their capability to constantly tap into new resources from a weaker position.

While many authors tend to highlight the context of dependency of African NGO actors, our project concentrates on how they tactically manoeuver themselves in order to accomplish their goals from a weaker position. It is our aim to provide new impetus on how they negotiate resources, adapt to moments of insecurity, and cope with structural obstacles, as well as cultural ones. Hereby, we would like to contribute to the increasing demand to historicize development discourses.

We invite scholars from all disciplines concerned to discuss empirical findings and theoretical insights that evolve around the issues mentioned. Short presentations (approx. 15 min) from the participants and a chaired discussion shall constitute a platform for an exchange on historical, sociological and anthropological perspectives. 

Download this outline (pdf)

Guests are welcome. Please register by email to lifeworlds (at) sfb1095.net