Enlivening the Supra-personal Actor

Vectors at Work in a Transnational Environmentalist Federation

in Anthropology in Action
Author: Caroline Gatt1
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  • 1 University of Aberdeen c.gatt@abdn.ac.uk

Recent anthropological literature on NGOs has focused on the agency and creativity of activists. The focus on the subjects of NGOs and agency in this work is an explicit response to scholarship in which actors are eclipsed by formal and technical analyses of organizational structures. This article revisits the concept of organizational structure by attending to it through the experience of activists of a transnational federation of environmental NGOs, namely Friends of the Earth International (FoEI). On a daily basis FoEI activists encounter and engage with various institutions. In certain situations, such institutions as well as the activists' own organizations are experienced as agentive entities. This article argues that from certain positioned perspectives such entities have material effects as supra-personal actors. Informed by Ingold, Latour and Haraway, but also by the FoEI activists themselves, I present the interdependent concepts of vectors, direction of attention and 'unprotected backs'. This conceptual toolbox is presented as a shared puzzle (Marcus and Fischer 1999), and as such is activism itself, that engages in conversation with environmental activists.

Anthropology in Action

Journal for Applied Anthropology in Policy and Practice


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