The overlap in location as a result of globalization and transnationalism, along with an understanding of the importance of intersectionality, requires us to question the dominate approach to the nonprofit sector. "Clearly questions of definition and context overlap; in fact, as scholarship in a number of relevant fields begins to address histories of colonialism, capitalism, race, and gender as inextricably interrelated, our very conceptual maps are redrawn and transformed. How we conceive of definitions and contexts, on what basis we foreground certain contexts over others, and how we understand the ongoing shifts in our conceptual cartographies − these are all questions of great importance...." (Mohanty, 1991, p. 3). In my research, it is always those "other" voices, those less acknowledged voices, I chase. Because our "relation to and centrality in particular struggles depend on our different, often conflictual, locations and histories" (Mohanty, 1991, p. 4), I am curious about what "others" can add to the conversation about the nonprofit sector and what they can teach us, rather than what we dictate to them. In the regional conference I attended, I found Latin American researchers and scholars approach their inquiry of the nonprofit sector differently than the North American and European models.
When I speak about the Latin American region, I am speaking specifically about Central America, South America, and the Caribbean Islands. Historically, the region in general, and with a profound nod of understanding of variation, experienced a rather economic boom in the 1950s followed by relative economic insignificance in the 1980s. The region suffers from the legacy of colonial and dictatorial regimes with sometimes tumultuous and violent transition to authoritarian democratic control that is coping with neoliberal restructuring policies imposed by global financial entities. The result has been stark financial inequality and uneven development. Various popular policies introduced with exclamations of best practices toward guaranteed solution have had mixed results, while political, fiscal, social, and cultural impediments abound amid exclusionary and segregationary sentiment. Given the region's history and instability, the nonprofit sector has held, and continues to hold, a prominent role in Latin American development.
Knowing the history, how then do Latin American researchers and scholars approach the nonprofit sector? In order to answer this question, I undertook a brief qualitative analysis of the paper titles and synoposes of the regional conference presentations provided in the program. There were a total of 54 presentations including plenaries with 1 known cancellation over the two-day conference (see Figure 1). Using thematic coding based on keywords (i.e., InVivo coding) via qualitative software, I discovered Latin American researchers and scholars appear to approach the nonprofit sector through a practice lens nearly three times more than approaching the sector through a theoretical lens. This means the research on the nonprofit sector in Latin America, as presented at the international regional conference, displays an concentration on finding practices that work, that bridge the research-practice gap, in contrast to North American and European approaches largely focusing on conceptual definitions in service to an academic discipline. As such, much of the presentations are qualitative in nature and case studies are prolific intimating big quantitative data sets moving toward generalizations hold (perhaps) little substantive power or relevance (given the varied circumstances facing Latin American countries), or generalizable quantitative data is simply nonexistent. The Latin American researchers and scholars appear to seek information to move the development of their countries forward, a reality North American and European researchers and scholars have the luxurious choice to disregard.
Figure 1. Down and dirty look at the presenters for the conference. For a blog post, I do not feel the need for in-depth analytics but need only provide an overview. Variables are rough and simplistic. Therefore, where presentations had multiple presenters from the same country in collaboration on one paper, the presentation is considered one presentation. If presentations contained multiple presenters from different countries, each country is considered one presentation. For plenaries, which contained several presenters on a related topic but provided individual presentations, each presenter is considered one presentation. Puerto Rico is part of the United States; yet, Puerto Ricans distinguish themselves from Americans, and vice versa, so these figures are kept separate. "Other" consists of countries with only one presenter present which includes: Belgium, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Panama, Peru, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.
The conclusion toward pragmatic practicality approaches is based specifically on the presentation themes brought forward. Studies focusing on government and nonprofit collaboration over-powered studies focused on academy and nonprofit collaborations (10:3) with presentations considering the for-profit role hitting in the middle ground between the two (6). And, such a concentration on effective collaboration makes sense given the unpredictable circumstances of many Latin American countries. There is a sense that it takes all sectors to bring stable development as studies often used the words co-production, collaboration, inclusion, and participation (57%) in their presentation titles. Yet, there was also a sense the greater collaboration is meant to forestall and perhaps combat the wide-spread corruption, inequality and hierarchical nature present in many Latin American governments and political systems. Studies explored issues of risks, tensions, challenges, and threats encompassing concepts such as accountability, control, discrimination, inequality, and limitations of power (35%). These issues were supplemented with notions of social management (9%), social responsibility (6%), and the presence of solidarity organizations (6%). In contrast, discussions on knowledge production (4%), innovations (7%), and methodology (2%), topics typically popular in North American and European discussion, garnered only scant representation. Ultimately, the purpose of the presented studies headed toward possibilities of meaningful, sustainable, impactful, policy and/or political action (69%).
These findings raise a number of questions regarding the domination of nonprofit research and scholarship by North America and Europe. Primarily, we must ask if North America and Europe are producing scholarship that meets the realities of Latin American countries? Are North American, European, and Latin American researchers and scholars talking around each other instead of with each other? What can Latin American researchers and scholars teach us about the nonprofit sector? What are North American and European researchers and scholars missing? What have North American and European researchers and scholars dismissed out of hand? The realities of Latin America cannot be pushed aside. Doing such makes research and scholarship irrelevant, inaccurate, and irresponsible. I feel what Latin American researchers and scholars know about the nonprofit sector is that little successes have the potential to add up to larger change. I also feel they are have found that citizens of their country know the nonprofit sector and are capable of relevant action − action that may not be as North America and Europe conceptualize it. What is certain to me is we will never know the possibilities for meaningful, sustainable, impactful action toward development if those who dominate the conversation fail to stop, listen, learn, and collaborate.
1. There is a long discussion, actually, over what to call the nonprofit sector considering its global variation. The Third Sector is often used in order to denote it occupies the space between government and for-profit. A recent plea has been to call the sector the "plural" sector. For more on this designation see Henry Mintzberg's (2015) article, "Time for the Plural Sector" (Stanford Social Innovation Review, Summer 2015, 28-33).
Anheier, H., & Salamon, L. (2006). The nonprofit sector in comparative perspective. In W. W. Powell & R. Steinberg R (Eds.), The nonprofit sector: A research handbook. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Mohanty, C. T. (1991). Introduction: Cartographies of struggle Third World Women and the politics of feminism. In C. T. Mohanty, A. Russo, & L. Torres (Eds.), Third World Women and the politics of feminism, pp. 1-47. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.
Salamon, L., & Anheier, H. (1998). Social origins of civil society: Explaining the non-profit sector cross-nationally. Voluntas 9(3): 213-248.
Saldaña, J. & Miles, M. B. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers + qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook. London: Sage Publications.