Last but not least, Wes Longhofer defended yesterday! Woohoo! Wes is the first student I’ve worked with from beginning to end, so it was especially rewarding to see it all come together.
Wes’s dissertation, “Foundations of Global Giving”, examines the recent explosion of globally-oriented philanthropic foundations, as well as their consequences for a variety of outcomes. He also has a chapter on individual participation in charitable organizations, which turn out to be affected by world society variables (in addition to conventional predictors).
Philanthropy isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, and sometimes it has taken transnational forms (from missionary work to the Ford Foundation). Yet, Wes argues we are seeing a new kind of liberal/American-style philanthropy emerging and becoming institutionalized in world society. The argument parallels work by John Meyer and Ho-Kyu Hwang on recent changes in the development regime, where models of progress become increasingly Anglo/liberal, locating the key to progress in individuals and their aggregations (e.g., NGOs) rather than states or other collectivities. Philanthropy is increasingly organized along global (neo-)liberal lines, generating a distinctive new flavor. Instead of missionaries or the Ford Foundation, we get lots of INGOs and global philanthropic networks, pushing all sorts of new “social ventures” worldwide.
It goes without saying that the dissertation had some diffusion analyses — in this case models of the global expansion of philanthropic foundations (at least one type of them). It is sort of a rite of passage — everyone in the world polity/world society tradition has to model diffusion at some point or another. And, there have to be INGOs. Lots and lots of INGOs.
Wes also examines the effects of foundations on national-level outcomes using statistical data. Foundations, it seems, have concrete consequences. Environmental foundations affect some measures of environmental degradation; medical foundations affect some kinds of medical outcomes (e.g., vaccinations), and so on. Some of the effects are mediated by the size of the state, with bigger effects where the state is smaller. In a world frequently typified by loose coupling, these direct consequences of foundations are actually kind of surprising…
Wes’s defense was a nation-wide phenomenon, with Liz (co-chair) and Michael Goldman in Minnesota, me and Ann Skyping in from the West Coast, and Michael Barnett on the East Coast. The defense was particularly lively, with the Michaels doing a great job of pushing back on the world society perspective, in a manner that was thought-provoking and constructive. It is always great when people ask the hard questions… I think of it as a sign of respect. You don’t push people if you know they can’t hold their own. Anyhow, it made for a fun defense (especially for those of us, who weren’t actually in the hot seat!).
Congratulations, Wes, on a job well done!!!
p.s. Wes won some serious style-points for dedicating his dissertation to their newborn, who is appallingly cute by all accounts: “For our beautiful daughter, Harper, whose first smiles came as I put this dissertation to bed — an event I chalk up to correlation, not causation.”