Viktoryia Kalesnikava

Transnational NGOs are a rather recent historical and cultural phenomenon, originating at the turn of 20th century and really coming into their own in 1980s, accompanied Post Cold War rapid neoliberalization. What enabled transnational NGOs to flourish at such speed and magnitude worldwide? What are the concrete implications of such an expansion? What local problems present themselves to NGOs that cannot be staged in ‘global’ terms, but nonetheless play a crucial role in the NGO industry?

Through ethnography, I explore the various ways in which transnational NGOs, as an emergent social form, attempt to accommodate and incorporate within its own cultural logic and practice contingency and local socio-cultural difference. In doing so, I focus on various local and regional sites of negotiation, capacity building, and governance. More specifically, my research focuses on the contemporary transnational orphan industry and its role in the emergence of global norms of care. I do so by examining one of its more visible actors: SOS Children’s Village (SOSCV), a transnational NGO and orphan charity operating in over 132 countries, which aims to provide every child – orphaned, abandoned, or in need – with a permanent family and home.

As a part of my research, I examine ideologies of kinship embedded in institutional practices that allow NGOs, and SOSCV in particular, to render their mission valid, if not complete in both description and practice. What kind of sociality and relatedness is made visible when kinship is constituted neither by biology or shared substance, but is rather imposed and regulated from the outside through institutional norms and universalized notions of family and care? What kinds of knowledge and values emerge if kinship is held accountable to capitalist standards of logic, rights and rationality? Examining kinship ideologies provides a tool for beginning to look critically at the models and values that guide state/civil society in their interventions, as well as a way of indexing wider changes within the discipline of anthropology.

The experience of being a political asylee of Belarus made me acutely aware of the presence of political and institutional power in social life, encouraging me to question and revisit an anthropology of ethics and well-being in the everyday. This latter interest also encompasses practices of healing, sorcery, and witchcraft in contemporary Europe, including those inherent in state and capitalist practices.

My additional research interests include anthropology of childhood and education; human trafficking and human rights; pharmaceutical industries and biotechnologies.

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