The Object of Activism: Documents and Daily Life in Namibian NGOs



Documents play a key role in the life of every NGO: donor reports, constitutions, membership databases, and promotional leaflets not only represent organizational action, but also have become a major form of civic activism themselves. In Namibia, NGOs are particularly pressed to show impact vis-à-vis a strong developmental state and an efficient private sector. “To document” has thus become a major preoccupation in their daily routine. This article asks what purpose documents do in NGOs and, through attention to their aesthetics, how they do them; and it shows that documents delineate social actions and actively shape NGOs’ daily work. The article's aims are twofold. First, its ethnographic approach to NGOs argues for an expanded range of possible actors that shape NGO work and everyday life. Second, it challenges the common ontological distinction between active subjects and passive objects by demonstrating the agency of things in organizational life more generally.