Is the world witnessing a global associational revolution spearheaded by development non-governmental organizations (NGOs)? Is the relationship between states and societies being more fundamentally redefined, even in remote, rural corners of the world? What role does the mushrooming of development NGOs play in this political-ideological process? What about NGO staff? Are they angels of mercy, government-paid development diplomats, propagandists for a triumphant West, or instruments in a coming clash between civilizations? Presented here are cases from Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Bangladesh and Nicaragua that shed light on these complex questions. The text puts forward a critique of central theories and concepts which have dominated research and discourse on development NGOs. It also proposes and demonstrates some different analytical approaches.