NEWS RELEASE | Now available from Johns Hopkins University Press—Explaining Civil Society Development: A Social Origins Approach

The Johns Hopkins University Press is pleased to announce its publication of Explaining Civil Society Development: A Social Origins Approach by Lester M. Salamon, S. Wojciech Sokolowski, Megan A. Haddock, and Associates.
The civil society sector—made up of millions of nonprofit organizations, associations, charitable institutions, and the volunteers and resources they mobilize—has long been the invisible subcontinent on the landscape of contemporary society. For the past twenty-five years, however, scholars under the umbrella of the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project have worked with statisticians in countries around the world to assemble the first comprehensive, empirical picture of the size, structure, financing, and role of this increasingly important component of society.
This new book is the capstone of this 25-year undertaking and a crucial successor to the previous books to emerge from this work. Not only does Explaining Civil Society Development draw together all of the systematic comparative data on the nonprofit sector, volunteering, and philanthropy assembled by this Project on over 42 countries around the world, but also takes the next step by going beyond description to address the important analytical question of what accounts for the enormous and puzzling cross-national variations that these data reveal in the size and contours of the civil society sector around the world?
In the process, Explaining Civil Society Development provides the first systematic, empirical test of the two major sets of existing theories that have been advanced to explain these variations in civil society development that attribute them, respectively, to differences in citizen “sentiments” and “preferences.” Finding these theories inadequate to account for much of the observed variation, the book draws on the insights of Barrington Moore, Jr., Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and others to formulate an alternative “social origins” theory that attributes the variations in civil society strength and composition around the world to the relative power of different social and economic groupings and institutions during critical turning points in national development.
Utilizing statistical and comparative historical methods, it then tests this theory against the newly available evidence. What emerges is the discovery of a set of distinctive patterns of civil society development that are, in turn, embedded in identifiable constellations of social, economic, and political influence. As a result, this pioneering volume offers a fresh and well-documented framework for understanding the varied evolution of the nonprofit or civil society sector throughout the world and a potential basis for predicting its likely future evolution in various settings.
Part II of the volume provides a detailed look at the scale and shape of the civil society sector in ten countries for which new or updated data have recently become available and assesses how well the social origins theory accounts for the patterns that become evident.
In its robust new systematic data on a sector that has long been invisible and its powerful conceptual analysis, this book will be of interest not only to students of the nonprofit sector, but to anyone interested in sociology, political science, comparative history, or public policy—and to government officials, development specialists, and nonprofit practitioners alike.

Get Explaining Civil Society Development: A Social Origins Approach today

Explaining Civil Society Development: A Social Origins Approach is available to order in Hardback or Digital E-Reader Editions today from Johns Hopkins University Press and Amazon, as well as other major retailers.
For direct orders from Johns Hopkins University Press, we are offering a 20% discount off the suggested retail price on both editions—please be sure to enter discount code HTWN when ordering to receive your discount.
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ISBN 978-1-4214-2298-5 | Hardcover & Digital | US$64.95 ($51.96 with discount)

Q&A with Lester Salamon

In anticipation of the release of Explaining Civil Society Development, lead author and Center for Civil Society Studies Director Lester M. Salamon conducted a Q&A with Johns Hopkins University Press that gives some insight into the motivations for writing the book, the insights he and his colleagues gained in the process, and what readers can expect when they explore the book. The Q&A is reproduced below.

JHU Press: Why did you decide to write this book?

Lester M. Salamon: Existing theories purporting to explain civil society development from place to place could not account for the variations in civil society size and shape revealed by the body of cross-national empirical data on this sector generated for the first time by our research over the past 25 years. We wrote the book to test these theories against actual data and to find our way to a more persuasive and effective explanation.

What were some of the most surprising things you learned while writing/researching the book?

Sentiments of altruism do not vary that much across societies and religious traditions and therefore cannot explain much about variations in civil society strength or character. Prevailing economic theories that see civil society development shaped by consumer preferences in the market for services and citizen choices expressed through elections do not explain much of the variation in civil society development. Rather, we found compelling evidence that a country’s civil society is shaped by power relationships among powerful social and economic groupings.

What is new about your book/research that sets it apart from other books in the field

This book brings brand new empirical data into the analysis of the scope, scale, and patterns of development of the civil society sector on a global basis. It also refutes prevailing economic and cultural explanations of the rise and expansion of the civil society sector and brings a novel comparative historical “social origins” approach to an analysis of the evolution of the civil society sector globally.

Did you encounter any eye-opening statistics while writing your book?

Several, yes. First, the civil society workforce is the second or third largest of any industry in most advanced industrial countries; second, the civil society sector in Europe is larger than that in the U.S. when measured as a share of the working age population; third, government has emerged as the largest single source of support for civil society organizations in most of Western Europe and easily outdistances philanthropy even in the United States; and finally, volunteer work, i.e., the giving of time, outdistances the giving of cash by a factor of 2:1.

Does your book uncover and/or debunk any longstanding myths?

This book debunks several long-standing myths that permeate the understanding of the civil society sector around the world, including:

  • That civil society is predominantly an American phenomenon—in fact many other countries have larger civil society sectors relative to the size of their economies than the U.S.
  • That Europe has a “welfare state”—In fact, it has built a massive “welfare partnership” relying heavily on nonprofit organizations to deliver state-financed services.
  • That a zero-sum relationship exists between nonprofits and government such that an expansion of government leads inevitably to the displacement of private, nonprofit groups. In fact, these two sectors are mutually reinforcing.
  • That private philanthropy is the largest source of financial support to nonprofits, especially in the United States. In fact, even in the U.S., this is far from the case. Philanthropy accounts for no more than 13-15% of nonprofit revenues in the U.S., and is the dominant source of funding in only one country that we studied (Mozambique).

What is the single most important fact revealed in your book and why is it significant?

That the development of the civil society sector in a country is fundamentally shaped by power relationships among powerful socio-economic groupings.

How do you envision the lasting impact of your book?

One of our reviewers put the answer to this question most succinctly:

“In its macro-level focus and mixture of historical and empirical explanation, the book offers a theoretical approach to the study of civil society that should be useful and appealing to scholars and audiences outside of the traditional nonprofit studies field, or to those in the field who have been looking for a less economics-heavy and more holistic approach to theory making. In particular, the theory’s firm emphasis on power dynamics begins to offer a more critical lens for viewing the evolution of civil society and the nonprofit sector around the world—a crucial step for the field and a useful source for sociology, political science, and other disciplines.
We have been missing a macro-level, cross-national examination of civil society that addresses civil society development in a systematic, empirical way. For those who have been developing curricula on nonprofit sector theory, this book is very timely indeed.”

What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?

I hope that readers will gain an appreciation of the enormous cross-national diversity of civil society forms but also be introduced to the existence of a body of theory with which to explain this diversity and predict future evolutions with reasonable confidence.
Chelsea Newhouse, Center for Civil Society Studies
Gene Taft, Johns Hopkins University Press


Chelsea Newhouse

View posts by Chelsea Newhouse
Chelsea Newhouse served as the Center's Communications Manager and managed the Nonprofit Economic Data and Philanthropication thru Privatization Projects. Prior to joining the Center in 2008, she worked for the Johns Hopkins University Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics, the Baltimore Sun, and as a community organizer for Clean Water Action and the Democratic National Committee. She holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Virginia. Following the Center's closing, Chelsea now serves as Project Manager at the East-West Management Institute, where she continues to work on the Philanthropication thru Privatization Project and other civil society development initiatives around the world. Chelsea can be reached at