Exploring foundations through French Pragmatic Sociology of Critique

Tuesday 14 February 2023

We are delighted to announce that Dr Janis Petzinger has begun her 18-month postdoctoral fellowship within CSPPG, made possible through the generous support of The Rank Foundation. Her research explores the practice of relational philanthropy, which claims to democratise grantmaking by bringing in knowledge and lived experience from grassroots beneficiaries. Her PhD thesis, entitled ‘Grammars of Grantmaking: Exploring the Normativity and Governance of Relational Philanthropy within a UK-based Foundation’ problematises relational philanthropy practices; it questions whether relational philanthropy steps away from pejoratively labelled ‘top-down’ approaches to philanthropy, or if it repackages paternalism in philanthropy. She focuses on the complexities, promises, and challenges of creating equitable giving dynamics between grantors and grantees, particularly: the interpretive complications of rethinking accountability in grantmaking; the embedded process of brokering grassroots knowledge in grantmaking spaces; and the generative potential of employing trust to create reciprocal grantor-grantee relationships.

Along with exploring dynamics of gift relationships, Janis’ research focuses on the organizational idea of the foundation as both a conceptual and empirical phenomenon. She frames foundations through the lens of French Pragmatic Sociology of Critique (FPSC), a non-structuralist form of sociology that sees uncertainty as the ontological underpinning for organizational work. She uses FPSC to theorize the institution of philanthropic foundations as a hermeneutic contradiction, as a ‘composite set up’ that (re)interprets giving methodologies via emerging normative and political ideologies that play in complex situations. Such a theoretical framing serves as the foreground for empirical explorations of how foundations engineer solutions to socio-economic inequality via normative forms of knowledge, be it from market-based, neoliberal ideologies or familial, trust-based ideologies into their practices.

In her new post, Janis will be building on her empirical findings and theoretical framework to strengthen the knowledge base in the area. By highlighting which issues foundations open and close their eyes to, Janis will contribute critical scholarship that highlights how foundations employ or eschew critical reflexivity against wider concerns surrounding their perceived plutocratic nature. She will also be engaging in the field of practice, particularly through the Rank Foundation, who co-funds this project, with Janis feeding her findings and research into their practices of relational philanthropy, along with their wider network of beneficiaries and funders. Practitioner involvement will also include a variety of engagements with various funding bodies, individual foundations, and individual philanthropists.

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