Recent anthropological literature on NGOs has focused on the agency and creativity of activists. The focus on the subjects of NGOs and agency in this work is an explicit response to scholarship in which actors are eclipsed by formal and technical analyses of organisational structures. This article revisits the concept of organisational structure by attending to it through the experience of activists of a transnational federation of environmental NGOs, namely Friends of the Earth International (FoEI). On a daily basis FoEI activists encounter and engage with various institutions. In certain situations, such institutions as well as the activists’ own organisations are experienced as agentive entities. This article argues that from certain positioned perspectives such entities have material effects as supra-personal actors. Informed by Ingold, Latour and Haraway, but also by the FoEI activists themselves, I present the interdependent concepts of vectors, direction of attention and ‘unprotected backs’. This conceptual toolbox incorporates directionality into ‘agency’, that enables an acknowledgement of the power of supra-personal actors without undermining the experience, creativity and reflexivity of the human subject.
- supra-personal actors