The charity complex: an ethnography of a material aid agency in Reykjavík, Iceland

Rice, James G. (2007) The charity complex: an ethnography of a material aid agency in Reykjavík, Iceland. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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This dissertation examines the provision of charitable assistance in Reykjavík, Iceland. The project focuses in detail on the activities of one agency in particular, Mædrastyrksnefnd (Mothers' Support Committee). Mædrastyrksnefnd formed in 1928 as a response by concerned philanthropists to the conditions of material and social inequality faced by women. Since this time, the organization has expanded upon its historic focus to include a wider range of clientele. However, over the many years of its existence this agency has also withdrawn from its key emphasis on social advocacy to focus mainly on the work of traditional charities that do not, as is argued in this dissertation, dismantle the status quo in relation to structural inequality. -- This project is based on a period of ethnographic research which extended from February 2004 through to June 2006. The primary research method was participant observation. With the permission of the staff I was able to work as a volunteer at Mædrastyrksnefnd which allowed me to observe and participate in the practices of charity as well as to engage the staff and some of their clients in ongoing discussions about their experiences and views of charity. I extended some of these ongoing conversations into formal interviews with select staff members and clients. As the result of the widening social contacts I made as a volunteer at Mædrastyrksnefnd, I was able to expand the scope of the project to include interviews with senior officials from a number of other charitable organizations as well as officials with social advocacy organizations and governmental social welfare agencies. I also conducted statistical research and analysis on behalf of Mædrastyrksnefnd in addition to historic and contemporary archival research. -- The focus of my analysis centers on exploring the complex ways in which charities are imbricated with the state, business concerns, and the general public to form what I refer to as an interconnected 'charity complex.' The idea of the charity complex calls in question the notion that charities 'independent' or 'third' sector and suggests as well why charities become entrenched within wealthy societies. I argue that the material assistance these kinds of agencies provide makes short-term, often crucial differences for their clients. But in the long term, the work of the charity complex acts to maintain the status quo regarding structural inequality in a number of significant ways.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 11336
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 523-553).
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Anthropology
Date: 2007
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Charities--Iceland--Reykjavík--Social aspects; Charities--Iceland--Reykjavík; Charity organization--Iceland--Reykjavík; Ethnology--Iceland--Reykjavík.

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