Tian, Fengrui. “Rationalizing (In)Capacities”, Boston College, 2020. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:108929.
Existing literature on NGOs in China depicted NGOs as either depoliticized service providers or harbinger of democracy expecting them to mobilize movements or participate in policy advocacy. However, few explain what accounts for differences in their capacities. While some scholars argue that NGOs’ relations with different actors in the field have influence on variations of their capacities, they do not disaggregate what resources are mobilized in such relationship management. Extending their arguments, I argue that NGOs leverage relationships to obtain essential resources such as symbolic legitimation from the state, financial support from civil society actors and social embeddedness from constituencies to operate effectively. Drawing upon four months ethnography on three NGOs serving the needs of sex workers in greater China region, I illustrate how these NGOs are either capable of carrying out their original political mission—to decriminalize sex work in China—or deflected into service provision, through their mobilization and attainments of different resources.