NGOs, International Donors, and the Postmaterial Disjuncture in Latin America

Samuel Handlin


NGOs have proliferated in the developing world, assuming key political roles as intermediary organizations representing public interests. Yet at least in the three Latin American countries examined here, the proportion of the NGO sector focused on postmaterial issues massively outpaces the proportion of the mass public that considers these issues highly salient. This article demonstrates this “postmaterial disjuncture” and theorizes that international donors help drive it by favoring NGOs that pursue postmaterial issues. This hypothesis is evaluated by analyzing a unique dataset containing information on over 700 NGOs. Organizations pursuing postmaterial issues are more than three times likely to receive international funding than are otherwise identical NGOs pursuing material issues. While international donors may be well intentioned, their postmaterial agendas shape the issue orientation of the NGO sector, resulting in potentially adverse consequences for its ability to effectively represent mass interests.

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