Dissertation Abstracts

The Question of Trust in Gift Relationship: The Case of Philanthropic Giving in Israeli Social Change Organizations

Author: Bar, Hagay , hagay.bar@gmail.com
Department: Sociology and Anthropology
University: Bar-Ilan University, Israel
Supervisor: Prof. Ilana Silber
Year of completion: 2012
Language of dissertation: Hebrew

Keywords: Gift Relationships , Social Movements , Philanthropy , Trust
Areas of Research: Social Classes and Social Movements , Organization , Political Sociology


This research offers to explore philanthropic relationships from the recipients’ perspective. Focusing on activists in Israeli social change organizations, who are involved in the process of raising funds and receiving donations financing their activities, the study aims to examine their range of perceptions, experiences and practices with regard to processes of fund raising and the receiving of gifts, as well as to the very fact of being in the position of recipients in philanthropic relationships. The conceptual framework guiding the analysis ties together several disciplines of relevance to the subject of research: the study of philanthropy; sociology and anthropology of the gift; the sociology of trust; and sociological studies of social movements.
Data were collected in the course of field work conducted during the years 2007-2009 by means of two main tools: (a) semi-structured interviews with activists in social change organizations; and (b) analysis of publications and printed materials published by the organizations and by several of the foundations that support them.
Analysis of the interviews revealed that activists deployed five different types of cultural logics in the process of making sense of and interpreting philanthropic relationships: professionalism; marketing; inter-personal relations; shared vision; and critique. Activists are shown to display a diversified and creative use of these distinct cultural logics. These were found to be interlaced together in the activists’ descriptions, resulting in a rich mosaic of discursive forms and strategies of action with regard to the reception of philanthropic donations.
The findings of this research thus stand in sharp contrast to the marginalized place allotted to the element of receiving in existing literature on philanthropic relations. This study reveals the importance of reception as a distinct position and a basis for active agency, in shaping social interactions and the identities of the social actors involved in these interactions. The broad range of possible combinations and movement between the five different cultural logics—however distinct and even opposed to each other— underscore the creativity and flexibility entailed in the activists’ accounts of their positions as recipients. This flexibility also allowed activists to blur the distinctions between the identities of donors and recipients, undermining hierarchies perceived as stable and enduring, nearly to the point of complete role reversal. Thus, activists are able to follow a fleeting and elusive path between trust and suspicion, as well as maneuver between ideological commitments and instrumental concerns, and between accepting a set of given ‘rules of the game’ and transgressing these and undermining the existing order.