Practising the Common Good: Philanthropic Practices in Twentieth-Century Denmark

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Since the beginning of the 1990s, civil society has attracted both scholarly and political interest as the ‘third sphere’ outside the state and the market, strongly amplified by the sectorial conceptualisation of state, market and civil society. In contrast, this article shows that civil society is and has never been a pre-existing location separated from state and market. Its boundaries are constantly produced through practices interweaving political, economic and moral components. This will be studied through an exemplary Danish historical case of the Egmont Foundation 1920–2018. The study shows how different and changing philanthropic practices took part in producing distinction between state, market and civil society by demarcating categories of deserving and underserving needy as part of the ‘common good’ through changing donation practices and organisational forms. As a consequence, we can trace ongoing re-distributions of power relations in society over time. The study’s contribution to develop a post-sectorial concept of civil society is two-fold: first, by showing how political, economic and moral components are interlinked through the ongoing stabilisation of the ‘common’ and the ‘good’; second, by showing how these interlinks and transgression constantly re-distribute power relations in society and in turn create possibilities and limits for actions both in past, present and future.
TidsskriftInternational Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society
Antal sider16
StatusUdgivet - 2 sep. 2020

Bibliografisk note

Epub ahead of print. Published online: 2. September


  • The common good
  • Philanthropy
  • Processual-practice theory
  • Boundary drawings
  • Power relations
  • Post-sectoral concept