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Project information

Project team

Dr Pascal Goeke

Duration of project

Start 09/2019, since September 2021 continuation at Pascal Goeke's new place of work at the Private University of Education, Diocese of Linz, Austria

Funded by

German Research Foundation

Further information

Prof Dr Pascal Goeke

Transformative Philanthropy in the Anthropocene. Theoretical and Empirical Investigations

Philanthropic foundations thrive and prosper in many democracies. Within the last decades they have grown in number and wealth. Moreover, an increasing number of them has adopted transformative agendas. These foundations do not only want to finance the common good and fight grievances, but instead seek to transform societal structures. For that purpose, they engage with global problem descriptions and specify the problems from their perspective so that they can develop and introduce solutions. The Anglo-Saxon Philanthrocapitalism even asks, „how the rich can save the world” (Bishop/Green 2008). The numeric growth of foundations and their expansion of activities partly roots in the uneven accumulation of wealth among a very few and in shifting mentalities of the foundations’ founders. Equally essential, however, is the ever more liberal legislation on foundations’ issues and the growing appreciation for the civil society. Part of this appreciation is the understanding that grand challenges, the ecological transformation among them, cannot be adequately tackled by formal politics alone.

In this context, the ever-more influential formula of world observation Anthropocene offers, due to its de- and prescriptive totality, almost ideal scripts for the legitimation of the foundations’ ambitions and deeds. Accordingly, foundations have – both explicitly and implicitly – begun to pick up this formula and have become influential and powerful players of the ecological transformation. In doing so, they also shape the social spatiality and the spatial relations of the Anthropocene. As a particular type of organisation, they are, however, confronted with the fact that they lack direct ingress to their (social) environments. In addition, they also cannot take mandatory measures since they consider themselves as an integral part of the civil society. For goal attainment, they must primarily rely on the means of the gift.

Against this backdrop, the project seeks to empirically unveil what transformative philanthropy in the Anthropocene is about, how philanthropic foundations shape their programmes for the ecological transformation and, therefore, the Anthropocene, and why they do it the way they do. Since there is currently no organisation theory of the foundation available that is both embedded in a general social theory and sensitive for spatial issues, the project also aims at developing such a theory. In the end, the project offers both empirical insights and theoretical abstractions about the phenomenon of transformative philanthropy in the Anthropocene which opens up the possibility to learn more about the foundations’ possibilities and limitations for the transformation of socio-spatial structures.