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Caught in the Middle: The State, NGOs, and the Limits to Grassroots Organizing Along the US–Mexico Border

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NGOs across the world work on a daily basis to assist marginalized and working poor communities to meet their most basic needs. As NGOs take on the provision of many services that previously existed in the domain of the state, they enter into a contradictory relationship. As they work to improve these communities abandoned by the state, they can become the conduit whereby neoliberal state policy enters marginalized communities. Growing numbers of NGOs find that their primary sources of income come from donors and state agencies that share a propensity for neoliberal forms of governance. In the colonias, working poor Mexican communities, of the US Southwest, the triumvirate relationship among the state, NGOs, and grassroots leaders can create a disabling situation. I examine these cases, in which the neoliberal preference for self‐help projects and a focus on the fulfilment of individual needs can overshadow more collective forms of social change.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Women's Studies Program, California State University, Fullerton, CA, USA;, Email:

Publication date: June 1, 2005


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