Approaching philanthropy from a social theory perspective

Authored by: Frank Adloff

The Routledge Companion to Philanthropy

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415783255
eBook ISBN: 9781315740324
Adobe ISBN: 9781317579717


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Why do we give? This question points to the human capacity to give in general, as well as to the reasons, conditions, and motives for giving in different societal and historical contexts. To explore possible answers, this chapter examines philanthropy through a social theory lens. Moving from the micro to the macro level, the chapter begins with examining predominant theories of giving and discusses how an interactionist approach, and a stronger focus on emotions, can overcome some of the shortcomings of traditional perspectives. After highlighting the importance of organization and structure for philanthropy, the chapter draws on insights from Germany and the US to provide a historical-comparative perspective on philanthropic foundations and the wider socio-cultural contexts within which philanthropy has developed. The chapter concludes with some critical reflections on the state of theorizing about, and within, philanthropy.

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