Ambiguous spaces: the charity-NGO nexus in Iceland

James Gordon Rice*, Anna Wojtyńska

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to provide a case study which analyses the ambiguous relationship that Icelandic charities and NGOs have with the formal social welfare services they collaborate with as well as the clients they serve. Design/methodology/approach: The paper is based upon the combined work of both authors and drawn from a number of projects spanning the years immediately preceding the Icelandic economic crisis of 2008, through to the years of crisis and recovery, and into the present context. This contribution is a combination of a re-analysis of older material combined with new data and emergent issues. Findings: The contribution argues charities and NGOs in Iceland operate within an ambiguous space, not part of the formal welfare authorities yet in practice in collaboration with them. One danger is that the charitable environment offers no clear legal protections concerning client rights or entitlements to assistance, or grievance redress mechanisms typical of the formal social assistance schemes. Further, the ways in which charities exclude certain segments of the population is troubling, particularly in consideration of the lack of protections and the willingness of governments to download the costs of and responsibilities for services to non-professional and private charities and NGOs. Social implications: The findings are intended to contribute toward encouraging critical discussion about the appeal of charity as a service alternative in the context of governmental cutbacks and austerity measures. Originality/value: The findings are based upon limited but original case studies in Iceland.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-94
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Organizational Ethnography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited.

Other keywords

  • Charity
  • Ethnography
  • Iceland
  • Marginalization
  • NGOs
  • Poverty


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