In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Nongovernmental Organizations

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Analytical Approaches
  • Online and Data Sources

International Relations International Nongovernmental Organizations
Valeria Bello
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0051


International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs, usually called simply NGOs) can be considered within the framework of three different, broader categories depending on the focus of the particular debate. The first, contemplating their legal and institutional features, is that of international organizations. The second is the concept that refers to their social dimension and their composition—that is, civil society. The third, looking at their political dimension—the role they play in international relations and world politics—is the category of nonstate actors. Whatever the focus, INGOs can be defined as nonprofit organizations that operate in the field of world politics in different issue areas, claiming to defend a vulnerable part or to protect a particular common or collective good—promising a better future (see DeMars 2005, cited under General Distinctions). Therefore, as Willetts 2001 (cited under General Distinctions) illustrates, there exist many types of nongovernmental organizations whose structures differ significantly from structured organizations, such as pressure groups, professional associations, or humanitarian associations, to informal transnational networks and social movements. Required elements recognized by almost all scholars and rulers are that they must be nongovernmental and nonprofit making. The debate around this topic is broad and varied: A number of books provide general overviews of the INGOs’ world and serve as introductions to the topic or distinguish among the different types of INGOs operating within the field of world politics. Other scholars differentiate the roles INGOs play in international relations theoretically. Many books examine INGOs’ involvement in different regions of the world, while others are concerned with their activities and functions in distinct issue areas, looking at their contributions to and proliferation in established sectors, including development, democratization, peacekeeping and conflict resolution, human rights, gender issues, environment, education, and health. Some specialized international journals can also provide experts and researchers with useful data on the involvement of INGOs in particular issue areas.

General Overviews

To provide a broad introduction to the world of international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), this section includes both books that analyze the origins and development over time of INGOs, such as Batliwala and Brown 2006, apt for all students, and Price 2003, apt for PhD students and researchers; and those that discuss the main activities, strategies, functions, structures, and relationships of INGOs in world politics, such as Tarrow 2005 and Hilhorst 2003. Willetts 2011 is a useful introduction for all interested students and researchers, while Smith and Johnston 2002 offers an introduction to the world and activities of protest movements. Khagram, et al. 2002 provides an analysis of INGOs’ strategies and what factors influence their failure or their success. Dauvin and Siméant 2002 is a French work that focuses on the characteristics of the French landscape of INGOs.

  • Batliwala, Srilatha, and L. David Brown, eds. Transnational Civil Society: An Introduction. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian, 2006.

    NNNThis extensive collection of works offers an overview of INGOs’ activities, illustrating their development and increasing importance in transnational affairs and their main achievements in facing global issues. A good introduction for all students.

  • Dauvin, Pascal, and Johanna Siméant, eds. Le travail humanitaire: Les acteurs des ONG du siège au terrain. Paris: Presses de Science Po, 2002.

    NNNThis French book illustrates the activities of humanitarian associations, focusing on the peculiarities of the French aid INGOs. It takes into account case studies of different INGOs in several countries around the world, such as Cambodia, Thailand, Madagascar, and Kosovo.

  • Hilhorst, Dorothea. The Real World of NGOs: Discourses, Diversity, and Development. London: Zed, 2003.

    NNNThis is a critical reading that analyzes the structures and activities of several INGOs, examining their discursive strategies and comparing these with the often distant reality of what actually happens on the ground.

  • Khagram, Sanjeev, James V. Riker, and Kathryn Sikkink, eds. Restructuring World Politics: Transnational Social Movements, Networks, and Norms. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

    NNNThis volume collects several works on advocacy networks, considering their role in transforming and monitoring international norms, and reasons and factors that influence their achievements, failures, and halts.

  • Price, Richard. “Transnational Civil Society and Advocacy in World Politics.” World Politics 55.4 (2003): 579–606.

    DOI: 10.1353/wp.2003.0024

    NNNThis article illustrates the development of transnational activism in international affairs and the increasing importance it is achieving by discussing the literature on the subject broadly. It is a useful reading for PhD students and researchers.

  • Smith, Jackie, and Hank Johnston, eds. Globalization and Resistance: Transnational Dimensions of Social Movements. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.

    NNNThis edited book collects interesting case studies on the results that INGOs, and particularly social movements, achieved in key events and protests. A well-known reference for both postgraduate students and researchers on contentious movements.

  • Tarrow, Sidney. The New Transnational Activism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511791055

    NNNThis book illustrates structures, processes, and actors operating within the transnational environment. It is interesting to get an idea of how activism has internationalized in the last decades and the impact this has had on domestic actors.

  • Willetts, Peter. Non-Governmental Organizations in World Politics: The Construction of Global Governance. Milton Park, UK: Routledge, 2011.

    NNNAn up-to-date work that considers the structures, membership, and activities of different types of INGOs and the increasingly significant role they play in world politics. It is a comprehensive source that is apt for everyone interested in the subject.

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