Accepted paper:

Migrant workers against institutions

Authors:

Francisco Arqueros (University of Almeria, Spain)

Paper short abstract:

NGOs working with migrant workers tend to develop interests that depart from those of the people that they represent. "Insider ethnographies" can highlight this contradiction and contribute to efforts to empower migrant workers. However, they also can 'damage' the reputation of these organisations.

Paper long abstract:

As social institutions, NGOs working with migrant workers, like trade unions, tend to develop interests that depart from those of the workers or members that they represent. This is reflected in the contradiction between "institutional efficiency" and "popular power". "Insider ethnographies" by anthropologists working with NGOs can highlight this contradiction and contribute to efforts to empower migrant workers. However, they also can damage, in the eyes of representatives from NGOs, the reputation of these organisations and their staff. This paper describes and analyses the campaign of an Irish NGO between 2006 and 2008 to empower migrant workers in the Irish Mushroom Industry. Mushroom workers did not elect any of those who became their representatives. They had felt powerless in relation to their employers, and normally could only assent, accept and consent. Trade unions also looked distant to them. The NGO working with them achieved important results for the workers (for example in terms of getting back wages), but on their behalf. The Mushroom Workers Support Group created by this NGO was not workers' led as it was claimed. A critique is made in this paper, not to negate some of the very good work that has been done by this NGO but to make a contribution to the body of knowledge that already exists to help the struggles of the powerless. This paper also deals with the contradiction between the activist and the academic when anthropologists following an "action research" methodology represent both roles.

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panel P25
Can anthropology work for migrants? Anthropology (-ists) at work in charities and NGOs