“We Are Not Contractors”: Professionalizing the Interactive Service Work of NGOs in Rajasthan, India Academic Article uri icon


  • Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been much studied for the impacts of neoliberalization on their funding, procedures, and motivations. In this article, I use a case study from Rajasthan, India, to show how conflicts that have been generated by recent trends in development funding are taking a specific shape at the scale of NGO workplaces. A process of professionalization is occurring that is altering NGO-client interactions and the hiring priorities of NGOs. I use the framework of interactive service work to argue that previously close relationships between fieldworkers and clients have become shallow encounters, characterized by a relative interchangeability of provider and customer. The work of an NGO fieldworker has become deskilled and degraded. For the NGO I studied, deskilling brought about a rapid turnover of senior staff, who were replaced by low-paid, low-caste fieldworkers. The change in staff spurred the management of employees' emotional labor as the NGO leaders attempted to generate the necessary emotional connections between fieldworkers and clients, so its contracted project could move forward successfully. Changes in the caste composition of staff, coupled with new labor processes in villages, also created tensions about the status of the NGO's work as a social service. The research adds depth to previous studies of neoliberalism's impact on service workers in the Global North and South and to the literature on the professionalization of development. © 2010 Clark University.

author list (cited authors)

  • O'Reilly, K.

citation count

  • 16

publication date

  • February 2011