Philanthropy as an investment

Philanthropic enterprises
Contribution to a study of reproduction and legitimation strategies of economic elites
By Thomas Depecker, Marc-Olivier Déplaude, Nicolas Larchet

The global rise of philanthropic practices and organizations since the 1990s has been described using many terms, including “strategic philanthropy,” “venture philanthropy,” or, more recently, “philanthrocapitalism.” These terms attempt to capture both the development of supposedly new ways of doing philanthropy, in search of greater efficiency and results, and the emergence of a new generation of entrepreneurs committed to working for the common good as part of their economic activities. This article aims at discussing these assumptions. Drawing on the recent works of French-speaking researchers and on the field of philanthropic studies developed in the United States since the 1950s, we then study philanthropic practices of those elites endowed with economic capital, and propose to analyze their gifts as indissolubly economic, symbolic, and political investments. This allows us to further examine the strategies that philanthropic organizations use to maximize the effects of their gifts, and to incite other actors—whether public or private—to do the same. Finally, we study how these gifts bring benefits to their givers, and allow them to convert a fraction of their economic capital into other kinds of capital in an effort to consolidate their position.


  • philanthropy
  • philanthropic foundations
  • capitalism
  • state
  • elites
  • social reproduction
  • legitimation
  • power
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