With novel charitable and philanthropic opportunities emerging at an astonishing rate, it is rarely necessary today to draw the reader’s attention to the cultural politics of philanthropy; the word philanthropy is associated with nearly every celebrity personality, as well as nearly every market transaction and community activity—from buying shoes to wearing them to a charity gala at the local donor-funded museum. These practices activate action through vocabulary, or through a productive relationship to what Raymond Williams ( 1985) described as keywords. In this article I view philanthropy in terms of its relation to cultural politics and positivist culture in order to understand more specifically how philanthropy has achieved such a high level of diffuseness as a social and political relation. I begin by demonstrating how, as a keyword, philanthropy has become part of what Miranda Fricker described as the “collective hermeneutical resource.” I then investigate how the power of this hermeneutic circulation has encouraged the recent association of philanthropy with a particular argument for how logics order society, which in turn reinforces Fricker’s “hermeneutic marginalization.” Finally, I criticize the discrepancy between hermeneutic practices and logic in the practice of “actually existing philanthropy.”
Philanthropy, Hermeneutics, and Power: An Inquiry into Keywords and the “New” Logics
Patricia Mooney Nickel is associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. Her research interests include critical theory, cultural politics, philanthropy and the voluntary sector, and the political economy of knowledge production. She is the author of Culture, Politics, and Governing: The Contemporary Ascetics of Knowledge Production (2015) and Public Sociology: Governance, Politics, and Power (2012) and the editor of North American Critical Theory after Postmodernism: Contemporary Dialogues (2012).
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Patricia Mooney Nickel; Philanthropy, Hermeneutics, and Power: An Inquiry into Keywords and the “New” Logics. Cultural Politics 1 November 2017; 13 (3): 370–390. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-4211362
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