NGO legitimation as practice: Working state capital in Tanzania

Kathy Dodworth*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) undertake a considerable amount of work to create the space in which to operate and in which to exercise their own form of governance. This work does not reside purely within ‘textual’ artefacts but also within NGO discursive practices on a daily basis to different audiences. It resides in how they choose to position themselves in relation to other players in what can be a crowded and highly politicized environment. This article argues that much of this work is captured by a broader conception of legitimation in rendering the exercise of power and influence acceptable to others. This is informed by a Bourdieuian conception of ‘capital’, including social and symbolic capital, on which NGOs are particularly well-positioned to draw. NGOs' ambiguous location, between the ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres, affords them greater creativity in this process. This article examines how one form of capital, that of government relations, is used by NGOs to legitimate their presence in one district in Tanzania in the particularly fraught domain of land rights. It concludes that different positioning with regard to local government offers different opportunities but also works in tension with other forms of legitimation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-39
Number of pages18
JournalCritical African Studies
Issue number1
Early online date6 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • legitimation
  • practice
  • Bourdieu
  • capital
  • NGOs
  • civil society
  • Tanzania


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