Relational Work in the Struggle Against Poverty: Balancing Scholarly Critiques and Emancipatory Practices in the Nonprofit Sector

Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Ahead of Print. Among antipoverty nonprofit organizations (NPOs), a significant shift back to “relational work” has been occurring. This form of human services connotes strong bonds and durable engagement with clients on major life changes. Critics have associated such efforts with paternalistic and disciplinary regimes reinforcing broader neoliberal trends. Perhaps now, with mounting pressures toward (narrow) professionalization among nonprofits, these illuminating critiques can usefully be paired with investigations doing justice to relational work’s beneficial inner workings and effects. Informed by years of immersion in NPOs and insights from “late” Foucault—ironically the central theoretical influence among critics of relational work—we show how and why researchers might approach even problematic aspects of this form of social action as unavoidable elements capable of contributing to the alleviation of poverty. The conclusion argues for pragmatic and multifaceted approaches to the study and management of antipoverty nonprofits balancing both the precariousness and promise of relational work.

Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly |  

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