Giving Compass’ Take:
• Elisabeth S. Clemens’ timely new book, Civic Gifts: Voluntarism and the Making of the American Nation-State, discusses how citizens’ civic gifts and volunteering have a history of subsidizing what nation-states cannot provide.
• What are philanthropists’ roles in supporting civic gifts in a democracy?
• Learn about estimating the immeasurable value of volunteering.
Soon after COVID-19 hit the United States, the homemade face mask emerged as a powerful symbol of Americans’ common purpose in beating the pandemic. Its makeshift manufacture in homes across the country illustrated the voluntarist upsurge meeting the crisis.
Yet the DIY face mask’s status as a symbol of nationwide mobilization ultimately became an emblem of national disunity. After all, the very need for wide-scale private production and distribution of such an obvious public good highlighted the state’s failure to adequately prepare for the pandemic. Were homemade masks a rebuke to underfunded public budgets and the Trump administration? Or did they express a more fundamental lack of faith in the state’s competence to take the lead in addressing large-scale public crises? These questions tapped into larger ones regarding crisis-fueled voluntarism: Was the rise in mutual aid in response to the pandemic necessarily allied with demands for a more robust safety net, or did it carry an inherent strain of anti-statism?
As University of Chicago sociology professor Elisabeth S. Clemens chronicles in her timely new book, Civic Gifts: Voluntarism and the Making of the American Nation-State, that ambiguous relationship between voluntarism and the nation-state has a long history.
Clemens’ narrative proceeds along two tracks: a history of nation building and state making, and a history of American voluntarism, or, more precisely, a history of elite and mass-based charitable giving. Although the book features some dense sociological analysis, the bulk of Clemens’ account maps the crisscrossing of those tracks, with major national crises—wars, economic depressions, and ecological and natural disasters—serving as the major points of intersection. The chronicle she knits around them is richly textured, nuanced, and engrossing.
Read the full article about civic gifts and volunteering by Benjamin Soskis at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Learning and benchmarking are key steps towards becoming an impact giver. If you are interested in giving with impact on Civil Society take a look at these selections from Giving Compass.
Looking for a way to get involved?
A good way to complement your interest in Civil Society is to connect with others. Check out these events, galas, conferences or volunteering opportunities related to Civil Society.
Are you ready to give?
If you are ready to take action and invest in causes for Civil Society, check out these Giving Funds, Charitable Organizations and Projects related to Civil Society.