Loading Events

« All Events

Dissertation Defense, Anna Martínez-Hume, “Refractions of ‘Doing Good’: Subjectivity, the State, and NGO Worker Health Intervention in Maya Guatemala”

January 21 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Refractions of ‘Doing Good’: Subjectivity, the State, and NGO Worker Health Intervention in Maya Guatemala

Abstract: “On a global scale, NGOs have played an important role in development and addressing healthcare inequities over the last several decades. Yet, the work of NGOs is continuously impacted by processes of socio-cultural, political, and economic change. NGOs that work within a social justice framework for health offer a unique area to examine how they adjust to the ebb and flow of changing fields of social power. The Guatemalan context provides a salient example of this process, as changes in NGO-state relationships, health policy, and an increasingly pro-impunity state that protects perpetuators of corruption, have steadily impacted the subjectivities, resources, and practices of those working for NGOs.

This dissertation explores the changing socio-political healthcare climate in Guatemala and its effects on the ability of NGO workers to continue serving the needs of marginalized Indigenous Maya communities in the intersecting fields of health and social justice. Subjectivity is a useful theoretical framework for understanding how this larger shift in socio-political context impacts the actions, perceptions, and experiences of NGO workers involved in health intervention. This dissertation is guided by the notion that subjectivity is the site in which larger socio-cultural, economic, and political forces shaping social policy can likewise be seen to shape actors immersed in the ramifications of policy change. I propose that subjectivity is an amalgamation of individually, institutionally, and politically formed identities. NGO worker’s subjective realities are individually formed through their unique personal experiences and cultural identities; institutionally formed through the structure, history, and agenda of their organizations and funding institutions; and politically formed through their intrinsic and fluctuating relationship with the state and government institutions.

This dissertation research project was conducted over several summers between 2014 and 2019 exploring NGO workers’ experiences in health intervention from several NGOs in Guatemala. Utilizing semi-structured interviews, participant observation, textual and discourse analysis, this dissertation examines how NGO workers continue to serve Indigenous Maya communities despite dramatic shifts in state support for NGOs. This work discusses how factors such as identity, indigeneity, and institutional legacy can impact the health interventions and community activism implemented in Indigenous communities. NGO workers navigate both their personal subjectivity as Indigenous individuals with unique connections to the Maya community, and an institutional subjectivity as actors immersed in NGO rhetorics of development. These competing subjectivities yielded profoundly gendered understandings of empowerment and feminist solidarity within approaches for health intervention. NGO workers also possess institutional and political subjectivities that are defined by a complex relationship with the state. Health activism in the context of NGOs was transmuted over time through contractual relationships with the state whereby bureaucratic policies that place value on managerialism over social justice, thoroughly shifted the nature and content of health intervention. I argue that there is a fundamental link between non-governmental and government institutions, as NGO workers’ subjectivities are continuously shaped by both personal experience and politically driven policy change, authoritative discourse, and popular belief. It is through this fundamental link with the state where regimes of truth manifest that can ultimately manipulate the actions of NGOs, refracting their perceptions of “doing good” for the most marginalized.”


This dissertation defense will be held via Zoom. If you would like to participate in the defense, please contact Anna Martínez-Hume at mart1594@msu.edu for video meeting details.


January 21
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Event Category:


Video Conference


Department of Anthropology