SWG 03: Organizing in and through Civil Society:
Perspectives, Issues, Challenges


Gemma Donnelly-Cox, Trinity College Business School, Dublin, Ireland
Liv Egholm, Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Denmark
Liesbet Heyse, University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Michael Meyer, WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria
Damien Mourey, Sorbonne – University Paris 1, France
Marta Reuter, Stockholm University & Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden
Filip Wijkström, Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden

Civil society and its private, yet publicly oriented organizations (CSOs), are increasingly in focus of organization research. In organizational terms this is an extremely diverse sphere, encompassing groups as different as mass membership federations, professional NGOs, think tanks, religious congregations, foundations, informal networks, nonprofit welfare service providers, secret societies, and many more. All display different types of missions, often non-traditional governance arrangements (Cornforth & Brown, 2014), and intricate patterns of relationships to state and business actors. Complex layers of institutional logics constrain these organizations’ behavior, workforce motivation differs substantially from other sectors with volunteers and high dependence on intrinsic staff motivation complicating the picture (Valentinov, 2007), while consensus even on how to operationalize organizational effectiveness remains elusive (Lecy et al., 2012). The sheer diversity makes civil society a unique site of theoretically fertile organizational phenomena, calling for cross-disciplinary approaches and joint efforts.

The increasing importance and visibility of CSOs – often referred to as “the age of associations”, “the associational revolution”, “the rise of the nonprofit sector”, “neo-philanthropy” or “the philantropic turn” (see Salamon, 1994; Villadsen, 2007) –  are today studied and theorized in several disciplines, e.g. Business Administration, Economics, Sociology, Political Science and Social Anthropology.
The ambition of SWG 03  is to advance the academic development in this currently rich and growing, but still both conceptually and theoretically rather fragmented field of research and theoretical development. The SWG aims among others to:

  • Identify a common pool of key organizational matters and contemporary challenges to organizing in civil society, to be addressed by an as wide as possible range of perspectives, methods and theoretical traditions;

  • Stimulate the cross-disciplinary theoretical and methodological fertilization in civil society research;

  • Contribute to the effort of creating a more coherent common language that would serve as a bridge between the "scholarly silos" concerned with organized civil society within different disciplines.

SWG 03 addresses and explores issues related, among others, to: the negotiation of the institutional borders and boundaries between civil society and the other spheres in society; the practices through which organizing in civil society is continuously re-invented and re-packaged in order to fit into evolving institutional environments; the nature of the relationship between civil society organizations and the individual “citizens” of civil society (such as members, donors, volunteers, staff, board members and trustees, clients, and other stakeholders); the role(s) of civil society actors in the emerging hybridized welfare architecture; and the changing role of the institutional framework of the nation-state, and the implications of the transnationalization processes, for civil society organizing.


  • Cornforth, C., & Brown, W.A. (Eds.) (2013): Nonprofit Governance: Innovative Perspectives and Approaches. London: Routledge.
  • Lecy, J.D., Schmitz, P., & Swedlund, H. (2012): “Non-Governmental and Not-for-Profit Organizational Effectiveness: A Modern Synthesis.” Voluntas, 23 (2), 434–457.
  • Salamon, L. (1994): “The Rise of the Nonprofit Sector.” Foreign Affairs, 73 (4), 109–122.
  • Valentinov, V. (2007): “The Property Rights Approach to Nonprofit Organization: The Role of Intrinsic Motivation.” Public Organization Review, 7 (1), 41–55.
  • Villadsen, K. (2007): “The Emergence of ‘Neo-Philanthropy’: A new discursive space in welfare policy?” Acta Sociologica, 3 (50), 309–325.

About the Coordinators

Gemma Donnelly-Cox is Assistant Professor of Business (Organization Theory) at Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, where she is the Co-Director of the Centre for Social Innovation. Her current research interests include organizational hybridity, civil society-state relations in philanthropy, cross-sectoral collaboration in the process of social innovation, contestation of organizational field boundaries and civil society engagement in city greening. Gemma is a member of the senior editorial board of Nonprofit Policy Forum.
Liv Egholm is Associate Professor in Business and Politics at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Denmark. Her current research aims to comprehensively map how philanthropic gift-giving is influencing (and is influenced by) the continual conceptualization and practices of “the common good” and welfare from the middle of the 19th century until the present day. Liv is currently a guest co-editor for a special issue of Voluntas addressing the latest EGOS sub-theme about CSOs and acts as a reviewer of, among others, Organization Studies and Management Learning.
Liesbet Heyse is Assistant Professor in Sociology at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. With a background in Organization Sociology and Public Administration, she studies how public, nonprofit and private organizations – individually or in collaboration – attempt to contribute to the common good. She focuses on the societal effects and performance of these organizations in relation to their governance structures and organizational practices. Liesbet has published in international journals such as the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Voluntas, Journal of Public Administration and Theory, Public Administration and Disasters.
Michael Meyer is Professor of Nonprofit Management at WU – Vienna University of Economics and BusinessVienna, Austria, where he is the Head of the Institute for Nonprofit Management and the Competence Center for NPOs and Social Entrepreneurship. Current research interests include civil society in Central Eastern Europe (book published in 2017), CSOs in urban regions, managerialism and rationalization of CSOs, social innovation and social entrepreneurship. Michael is member of the editorial board of NVSQ, Journal of Civil Society and Nonprofit Policy Forum (NPF). He is also member of the advisory board of NML (Nonprofit Management and Leadership).
Damien Mourey is Senior Associate Professor at Sorbonne – University Paris 1, France. His research stretches over four different realms that are highly interwoven with one another: the diffusion of pragmatist ideas into organization studies in general; the role of accounting in meaning-making processes; CSOs as the site of innovative managerial practices and organizational forms to deal with pluralism; art-based research practices and participatory art as mediating the collective process of reclaiming public space.
Marta Reuter is Associate Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Stockholm University, and researcher at the Stockholm Center for Civil Society Studies (SCCSS), Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden Her research is situated at the intersection of Political Sociology and Public Administration, and revolves currently around internal CSO governance; CSOs as actors in transnational governance; and think tanks as a new type of actor in civil society. Marta’s research has been supported by grants from, among others, the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences, the Swedish Research Council, and Ragnar Söderberg Foundation.
Filip Wijkström is Associate Professor at the Department for Management and Organization, and the Director of the Stockholm Center for Civil Society Studies (SCCSS), at Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden. In his research Filip focuses on the roles and positions of civil society organizations in society, as well as on governance and the many different modes of organizing found in this sphere. Filip currently serves as editorial board member for two journals: Nonprofit Policy Forum and Voluntary Sector Review, and he is also the co-editor of a book series on nonprofit matters at Nomos Publishing House (Germany).