Knowledge and Global Advocacy:
: A Sociological Study of INGO Practitioners and their Epistemic Limits

  • Alistair Markland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This doctoral research project conducts a political sociology of knowledge of non-governmental actors engaged in advocating and reporting on issues relating to conflict and human rights. It engages the following research question: what are the limits of knowledge produced by non-governmental advocates? This question is applied to empirical case studies looking at, firstly, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group, and secondly, a network of global activists working on post-war Sri Lanka (2010-2014). Applying a Bourdieusian sociological framework, the thesis argues that professional advocates’ epistemic practices are shaped by an array of socio-political dependencies. Contrasting with past applications of Bourdieu to International Relations, this thesis reveals contextually-specific dependencies through multiple levels and scales of analysis. At the organisational level, these dependencies manifest through advocacy NGOs’ market-like relations with their targeted consumers, as well as their relations with rival knowledge producers. At the level of the human practitioner, it is shown how leading advocacy NGOs are reliant upon a relatively narrow labour market, consisting of practitioners who share a strong dispositional affinity with their consumers. Studying a smaller group of global advocates working on post-war Sri Lanka, the thesis also demonstrates how symbiotic relations between NGO practitioners and leading policy stakeholders had a structuring effect on advocates’ network relations, as well as stimulating a deference to a dominant policy discourse of ‘liberal peace’. Shifting the attention to advocates’ extraction of knowledge from its proximal contexts, this thesis also examines the influence of advocates’ localised dependencies. In the case of post-war Sri Lanka, it is shown how foreign advocates’ knowledge is informed by a limited set of domestic actors, primarily encompassing the country’s liberal elites. Overall, these dependencies are argued to place significant constraints on knowledge generated in advocacy contexts – limits that differ to other modes of knowledge production.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorBerit Bliesemann de Guevara (Supervisor) & Inanna Hamati-Ataya (Supervisor)


  • global advocacy
  • INGO
  • epistemology
  • non-governmental
  • Amnesty International
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Crisis Group
  • Sri Lanka

Cite this