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Building Civil society and Philanthropic Foundations in Transatlantic Perspective

My interest in the building of civil society has drawn my attention to non-state actors’ roles in times of societal crisis. By questioning established social, political, and economic realities, crises offer chances for individual action aiming to influence social dynamics. Associational activities offer non-state venues to influence – and ultimately – mold societies. My articles on German-American organizations in Indiana during World War One and the 1920s (Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly and the Journal of Civil Society) show how voluntary associations allowed German Americans to express their understanding of American pluralism at a time when homogenizing forces tended to silence alternative voices in American society. Likewise, my studies on associational networks in Germany from the 1910s to the 1930s (Central European History and Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly) point to how voluntary associations helped members in navigating major societal changes while providing them with avenues to influence societal transformation. I examine the effort to develop a pluralistic political culture and democratic practices of governance in inter-war Germany through the training of democratic leaders in Germany’s first school of public affairs, the German School of Politics. This historical case study exemplifies the challenges facing societies when transitioning from authoritarian to democratic systems of government, as they are unable to harmonize the rifts that a widening of the public sphere may cause (Journal of Civil society).


Building on this work on associational practices and the building of civil society, I focus on the ways philanthropic foundations attempt to influence societal change, both nationally and internationally. In a chapter published in an edited volume with Springer, I show through the analysis of transatlantic philanthropic transfers how clear asymmetries developed between an American understanding of democracy and the realities of the German political system within which the grantees operated. This work thus draws attention to comparative approaches to governance processes and cross-sector systems of dialogue that can inform practitioners of the underlying cultural, political, and historical dynamics of international grant-making. In a manuscript currently under review, I further explore these themes by showing how U.S. foundations were caught in the tension between the political expectations to select politically reliable partners and the programmatic necessities of working with political elites in order to develop effective programs.

Research outputs

Weber, P. C. (2021). Cross-partisanship and the Vulnerability of Democracy: How Civility and Nonpartisanship Undermined Civil Society in Interwar Germany. Journal of Civil Society, 17(2), 179-198.


Weber, P. C. (2021). In Search of Civil Society: Disentangling associational practices and civil society conceptions in Germany. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 50(4), 778–796.

Weber, P. C. (2020). International Grant-making in Times of Political Unrest: The Case of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Interwar Germany. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, 33(3), 389-406.

Weber, P. C. (2019). Ernst Jäckh and the National Internationalism of Interwar Germany. Central European History, 52(3), 402-423.

Weber, P. C. (2018). Forced Civil Society? Associational Life, Philanthropy, and the Athenaeum Turners in the 1920s. Journal of Civil Society, 14(1), 58-76.

Weber, P. C. (2016). Transnational Asymmetries: U.S. philanthropic foundations and the German School of Politics in the 1920s and 1930s. In G. Witkowski & A. Bauerkämper (eds.), German Philanthropy in Transatlantic Perspective. Perceptions, Exchanges and Transfers since the Early Twentieth Century (pp. 75-93). Switzerland: Springer International.

Weber, P. C. (2015). The Paradoxical Modernity of Civil Society: the Weimar Republic, Democracy, and Social Homogeneity. Voluntas, 26(2), 629-648.

Weber, P. C. (2014). Ethnic Identity during War: The Case of German American Societies during World War I. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 43(1), 185-206.

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