Philanthropy—private giving for public purposes by individuals, corporations, and foundations—is a widespread activity. Scholarship on philanthropy is long-standing and can be traced to competing theorizations of gift-giving, wherein the gift has been framed as a case of altruism, self-interest, or reciprocity. Much of the resulting scholarship, in the disciplines of anthropology, economics, evolutionary biology, and psychology, has retained a focus on emphasizing actors’ motivations for the scope and scale of philanthropy. Although sociologists have entered into the study of philanthropy more recently, they nonetheless have made important contributions to its understanding by drawing attention to the social bases of philanthropy. Sociologists have done so through the study of the micro-, meso-, and macro-level factors that explain variation in philanthropy; the specification of the institutional and legal arrangements that permit philanthropy; and the delineation of the social contexts that shape the direction and consequences of philanthropy.


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