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Accepted Paper:

Urban Austerity and the Birth of ‘Philanthropolis’: The New Civic Infrastructure and the New Commons  
Susan Hyatt (Indiana University Indianapolis)

Paper short abstract:

As austerity measures constrain the public sector, responsibility for social provision is increasingly falling to voluntary organizations and philanthropies. Despite the anti-democratic nature of these bodies, I suggest that they may have created a new civic infrastructure and a new kind of commons.

Paper long abstract:

As public sector institutions become increasingly constrained by a lack of resources and by the anti-tax sentiment of the electorate and of politicians, the responsibility for addressing such critical issues as education and poverty alleviation are increasingly falling to the efforts of voluntary sector organizations and private philanthropies, who are now among the primary providers of basic levels of social assistance, at least in the United States. These philanthropic interests and NGOs frame their interventions as a positive benefit to struggling cities trapped by the resource deprivation that Berglund (2020) has described as ‘austerity urbanism’. While many of these philanthropic concerns are linked to corporate giving, they also have a certain autonomy which suggests that they merit a somewhat different mode of critique and analysis. In the absence of public resources, these interests have been given free rein to create what Schuller (2012) has called a new “civic infrastructure,” one that is able to sidestep those institutions—school boards, labour unions and other elected bodies—that were once, at their best, intended to enforce public accountability. Despite the apparent anti-democratic nature of this new civic infrastructure, however, I suggest that they have, in fact, created new opportunities for commoning as they work to address the most pressing basic needs of marginalized populations, whose vulnerability has become even more acute under the conditions created by the pandemic.

Panel P059
New forms of responsibility and the reconfiguration of political commons
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -