Civil society and philanthropy

Civil society and its philanthropic and voluntary organisations are currently experiencing public and political attention, along with demands to safeguard society’s ‘common good’ through social cohesion and as providers of welfare services. This has raised the question for both practitioners and researchers alike, whether civil society and its organisations can maintain their specific institutional logic if they are messed up with external logics (state and market). These concerns depart from a sector model dividing state, market and civil society, which have championed the majority of civil society research. When observing the messy myriad of lived life and actions, it becomes evident that we cannot automatically divide these into separate sectors or logics. The involved actors’ actions exceed, challenge and bind different logics together in different constellations. The sectors do not exist empirically as pure structures – only in our analytical and conceptual framework; they are already pre-blended and polluted.

This approach constitutes the point of departure for the project. The ambition of the project is to evaluate how philanthropy has played a significant role in “polluting” and “purifying” categorizations, relations and values from a historical perspective. Furthermore, it is the ambition of the project to highlight the impact on both contemporary and future avenues of inclusion and exclusion in regards to contributors and receivers of the common good. The project introduces the heuristic benefit of using both as an empirical site, and as an entry for studying how concepts and practices of gift-giving “purify” and “pollute” categorizations and relations, with effect on which groups and values are included in the definition of the common good.

This will be studied through ethnographic case analyses of Danish corporate foundations, in the period stretching from the implementation of the Danish constitution until today.The project shows how philanthropic gift-giving concepts, practices and operational forms throughout history have played a significant role in defining the common good and its future avenues. Through an analytical attitude based on micro-history, conceptual history and the sociology of translation it becomes evident that civil society’s institutional logic always has been messed up with other logics, and that this creates the contemporary definitions of the common good.

This project is carried out by Liv Egholm.

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