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Everyday Mistrust: Examining trust-based governance of civil society in Ghana
(University of Toronto)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the experiences of civil society in Ghana that are increasingly expected to coordinate their work through trust-based networks. The paper finds that paying attention to everyday mistrust reveals the limitations of efforts to govern civil society through networks.
Paper long abstract:
"Our world is suffering from a bad case of trust deficit disorder," the United Nations Secretary General recently warned. For decades, trust has been a central tenet of foreign aid, resting on the notion that pervasive mistrust is an obstacle and that trust-building is a moral good that will foster the right kind of social relations for development (Li 2007). This paper explores how non-governmental organisations (NGOs) navigate the growing expectation that they work through trust-based collaborations. I focus on the experiences of an emerging platform of NGOs working on the Sustainable Development Goals in Ghana to ask how are NGOs enrolled in, contesting, and negotiating expectations to govern themselves through trust-based networks? As a country that has been called a "success story" of good governance, Ghana is an illustrative context to examine changing positions of civil society in development. In Ghana, the proliferation of networks is meant to streamline efficiency, coordination, and accountability in a complex and crowded civil society context. I argue that while these networks are underpinned by the idea that trust and collaboration are "good," it is often mistrust that characterizes the everyday realities of working in partnership. With increasing precarity and competition for funding, NGOs are suspicious and jealous of who benefits from the partnerships. I conclude that taking seriously the pervasive mistrust within networks reveals the precarious and highly political foundations of such networks and the ways that everyday practices often exceed the technomoral efforts to manage and govern civil society.
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