Society for Economic Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
The increased visibility and activity of philanthropic and nonprofit organizations in China over the last decade has led to increasingly self-reflexive debates about the sector’s mission, ethics, practice, and the delimitations of the sector itself. Chinese practitioners across a wide variety of scales and affiliations – what I call the public interest field (公益) – have sought to connect with U.S. institutions in ongoing circuits of ideas and capital to develop better responses to contemporary social needs. In inaugurating complex transnational constellations that facilitate exchanges of all kinds, Chinese public interest articulates autochthonous modes of giving with imported practices, with much of these transformations mediated by new technologies of public-making. Drawing from fieldwork conducted in China, this paper explores the notion of “social value” and the ways in which it is deployed by Chinese practitioners. What does it mean when a foundation’s mission is to “create social value for the community,” or when an overseas returnee’s reason for repatriation is to “create social value” by establishing a local charity? I ask, in what ways does “social value” reference or reconfigure modes of affinity? Is there an emergent sense of a new political, subjacent to and in excess of humanitarian concepts of generosity, care, or even civil society, embedded in the term “public interest” itself? How do the transnational movements of capital that contour this sector upset conventional frameworks of exchange and reciprocity? What does “creating social value” – or does it? – intimate for possibilities of political action?