'Doing Good' in Murmansk? Civil Society, Ideology and Everyday Practices in a Russian Environmental NGO

FNI Report 14/2005. Lysaker, FNI, 2005, 82 p.

In this report I investigate the relationship between an ideology of civil society and everyday practices in a Russian environmental youth NGO called PiM. Data for this report was gathered in 2004 during fieldwork conducted in Murmansk, Russia. The term civil society is a common reference in development aid programmes directed towards Russia, and is as such part of a process of constructing ‘the other’, e.g. the recipients of development aid. A general description of the concept ‘civil society’ in development discourse is followed by a discussion of everyday practises in PiM. In order to discuss the relationship between ideology and everyday practices, three empirical levels are separated and analysed: (i) individual strategies and perceptions; (ii) internal organisational practices and cooperation between PiM and its Norwegian partner; and (iii) external organisational practices as PiM advocates for change in environmental policies.  I find that among members of PiM, the possibility of gaining personally from voluntary work is imperative, hence that accumulation of individual social capital is significant as PiM provides a platform in which members can access valuable capital, maintain networks and the like. Nonetheless, members involve themselves in and voice an altruistic ideology. Thus, I find that self-interest and altruism seem to dialectically reinforce each other. Social capital may also enhance PiM’s operational skills, but as individuals compete for scarce resources, individual accumulation may be parasitical. PiM is to a significant degree subject to governance, and contributes to its own self-governance by adjusting to the demands of its Norwegian donor and partner. Thus, a relationship of dependency is created, where PiM is the weaker part. When PiM members try to advocate change in environmental policies they are considered by their adversaries (such as politicians and industrial managers) as ignorant persons, and treated as intruders in a field perceived as belonging to experts. Finally, I elaborated upon the term habitus in order to suggest that negative experiences of the past form practices at present in NGO life.