Washington Center

History, Theory, Practice of Non-Profits

Quarter Elective
Seminar 314

Quarter-based Elective: 3/27-6/08/2012 Since the United States? founding moments, its citizens (as well as notable visitors such as the French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville) have regarded the nation?s private voluntary associations and organizations as one of the key components of American exceptionalism. Variously termed the non-profit, the third, the voluntary, the independent or the civil society sector, this realm occupies the institutional space between the government and the market. But from those early days, the boundaries delineating this distinctive sector of American life have been blurred?as private associations collaborated with and received generous support from the government, and as they adopted techniques and ideologies developed from within the market economy, and faced the pressures of the market as well. In other words, within the nonprofit sector, crises of identity have long accompanied claims of distinctiveness and exceptional capacity. But in the last several decades, as nonprofit dependence on public funding has skyrocketed, as business thinking has penetrating the nonprofit world even more dramatically, and as financial and humanitarian disasters have demonstrated both the value and the limitations of nonprofits, the identity crisis seems to have deepened. This moment, then, is a crucial one for thinking seriously about the role of nonprofits in American public and private life, to consider their capacities and limitations. It is a crucial issue, not merely for those who are contemplating entering the non-profit world professionally, but for citizens of the United States and of the world more generally, whose lives are deeply effected by the operations of American non-profits. This course will help provide the necessary historical, theoretical, and practical background to begin grappling with that issue, using the distinctive institutional resources of Washington DC, as an important tool. We will ask questions such as: How do nonprofits fit into the configurations of power, governance, and authority in the United States and on the global stage? How do nonprofits bolster or hinder democratic traditions in the United States? What are the challenges nonprofits face in defining their distinctive roles against the functions performed by the government and by the market, and how are they meeting those challenges today? The class will involve both talks from prominent members of the DC

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