Building charitable authority: welfare organizations in heterogeneous urban settings

Lisa Szepan


Lisa Szepan explores how established welfare organizations position themselves within cities that are marked by a growing number of smaller civil society actors, as well as attempts to foster diversity-oriented policies. In Germany, these organizations have a strong legacy in contributing to the welfare state as privileged care-providers and political partners of state institutions. Being embedded in local politics, but also rooted in historically evolved (religious) communities and sometimes rigid value systems, they currently have to navigate a field of changing ways of social governance, as well as greater demands for recognition by various population groups. Taking the example of a German metropole, Lisa’s doctoral research traces strategies of particularly influential welfare organizations to retain their political and charitable authority, going beyond the often-employed notion of a ‘managerialization’ of their work. Instead, she attempts to understand how approaches towards sociocultural heterogeneity unfold within their charitable and political work, and how they position themselves as reliable, but innovative, partners for the city’s good. Looking at various network and committee activities, as well as charities’ public outreach, Lisa probes the dynamic field of governing care and claims around neediness in the city, focusing on organizational culture, contested understandings of solidarity, and an up-to-date charitable work within diverse urban societies. 

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