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Free to Conform: A Comparative Study of Philanthropists’ Accountability
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Business Studies.
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Those who are very wealthy may also be extremely free. Independently wealthy philanthropists epitomize this type of freedom. They seem to be able to act in whichever way they please, as long as they respect the limits of the law. Their freedom also implies that they do not experience as much accountability as other funders. Considering philanthropists’ ambitions as policymakers, and given their imposition of performance demands on their grantees, their accountability is relevant to investigate. However, there are no comprehensive comparative studies of philanthropists’ accountability, and there is mainly anecdotal evidence of a lack of accountability being derived from their independent wealth.

This dissertation is a study of philanthropists’ accountability. I compare their experienced and exhibited accountability to that of other funders within societies, and I also compare philanthropists’ accountability across societies. I investigate whether philanthropists’ independent wealth influences to whom they are accountable, for what they are accountable, and how they are accountable. To learn about these topics, I examine their accountability relationships, their accountability mechanisms, and how they justify their potentially controversial funding of human embryonic stem cell research. Across these dimensions, I study their legal, financial, hierarchical, peer, professional, political, and fiduciary/social accountability. Empirically, I make a cross-sectional comparison of philanthropists to other funders of human embryonic stem cell research within and across three welfare regimes - liberal California, social democratic Sweden, and statist South Korea. I compare the accountability of independently wealthy philanthropists to that of public agencies, corporations, and fundraising dependent nonprofits. The empirical materials include 101 structured interviews with open-ended questions covering 51 funding organizations, as well as questionnaires explored in ANOVA and social network analysis.

The study indicates that philanthropists experience and exhibit less accountability than other funders in some ways, in some contexts. By developing and using a framework to analyze their accountability, I show that philanthropists’ accountability is patterned within the societies in which they fund, and it differs greatly across societies. In California, philanthropists enact themselves as free actors, whereas in Sweden they enact a moral identity as funders of science. In South Korea, there is no clear boundary between philanthropic and corporate accountability. My results point to the contextual limits of philanthropists’ accountability. By enacting their moral identity in a way that conforms to local norms, philanthropists simultaneously retain and enable their continued freedom. In terms of their accountability, philanthropists are free to conform, and they become free by conforming.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Uppsala University, Department of Business Studies , 2015. , 162 p.
Doctoral thesis / Företagsekonomiska institutionen, Uppsala universitet, ISSN 1103-8454 ; 174
Keyword [en]
accountability, philanthropists, organization theory, human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research funding, philanthropy, civil society, nonprofit sector
National Category
Business Administration
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-251281ISBN: 978-91-506-2457-1OAI: diva2:804997
Public defence
2015-06-05, H2, Kyrkogårdsgatan 10, Uppsala, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2015-05-11 Created: 2015-04-14 Last updated: 2015-07-23Bibliographically approved

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