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This chapter examines the various criticisms of NGOs and calls attention to both the validity of these criticisms as well as contradictions and inconsistencies. Critics of NGOs can be found across the political spectrum, ranging from rightists who object to NGOs in principle to leftists who criticize NGOs for their failures to advance a progressive agenda or for deferring to government preferences. Despite their ideological differences and ultimate objectives, however, critics are remarkably similar in terms of many of their main complaints about NGOs. During the course of the 1990s and early 2000s, a clearly defined set of critiques of NGOs have appeared focusing on: (1) their performance and actual effectiveness, (2) accountability issues, (3) issues of autonomy, (4) commercialization, and (5) ideological and/or political interpretations of their rising influence. Now appearing with increasing regularity and frequency in the academic literature, the policy world, and the popular press, these critiques have been directed towards not only NGOs working in the area of conflict resolution (the main subject of this book), but to all NGOs: advocacy NGOs, service NGOs, and NGOs working in various issues areas. In order to provide both a comprehensive and a refined examination of the debate, this chapter will present the major criticisms of NGOs in general, while distinguishing critiques as they apply to various types of NGOs.


Published in Subcontracting Peace: The Challenges of NGO Peacebuilding, ch. 3 (2005), pp. 37-54.