European Gift Economies. Explaining Philanthropic Giving in Comparative Perspective

Research question/goal: 

Altruism has long puzzled social scientists of any discipline. Why would individuals voluntarily give money, blood or organs and invest time and work to help strangers without getting anything in return? To resolve this puzzle, scholars have mainly focused on a broad array of actor-centred explanations focusing on some pro-social motives and beliefs as well as material resources. Yet, philanthropic giving varies widely on the one hand across different countries, on the other hand across the types of “gifts” in a given context, casting some doubts on the overly narrow focus in research on altruism. Thus, existing research has widely neglected the embeddedness of actors in structures that provide incentives, opportunities and constraints to the thinking and actions of citizens. Such structures are constituted by specific national institutions, such as non-profit-sector regimes, social policies, tax laws, solidarity, and religious culture, but also by the varying strategies and resources of non-profit organizations to collect “gifts”. This set of institutions and organizations that bring about practices of philanthropic giving, like volunteering, the donation of money, human blood or organs, are termed “gift economies”. The main aim of this project is to analyse the emergence of national institutional arrangements and the organizational set-up of the gift economies to explain the philanthropic giving of different types of goods from a comparative perspective. For the empirical analyses, comparative surveys on the giving of money, time, and blood, as well as data on actual organ donations are complemented by institutional and organizational data.

Due to the leave of the project director, the project has been continued at the Center for European Studies, Harvard University (2015-2016), and at the University of Konstanz.

Fact sheet

2014 to 2015
continued elsewhere
Data Sources: 
Eurobarometer, European Social Survey, SOEP
Geographic Space: