[Voluntas] A Century of Nonprofit Studies: Scaling the Knowledge of the Field

I started to work on this project since early 2015, and the first paper is finally accepted in Voluntas today, which is my civil calendar birthday. Although our family tradition is to use the Chinese lunar calendar, still a nice gift.

Sara and I started to work on the first draft at Mo’Joe Coffeehouse, which was permanently closed in June this year. Another coffeehouse, Thirsty Scholar, was also closed around the same time. Lots of memories with friends in both places.

There are at least three versions of this paper. The first draft almost entirely relied on a citation analysis software package named CiteSpace. It was a very simple paper but it helped me get familiar with relevant concepts and methodology and cleaned a part of the dataset used in the final analysis. In the second draft, I started to write Python scripts for processing and analyzing data. In early 2017, while I was waiting for my wife, parents, and parents-in-law at Kuala Lumpur airport to start a wonderful journey in Malaysia, I received the rejection from a journal. Then I tried to rewrite the whole paper to analyze the literature published in the last century. I still remember the classroom in which I crawled the first hundreds of records – it was a classroom on the first floor of Teaching Building 2 in Beijing Normal University, where I also spent many nights for preparing my Ph.D. application. I then had a lunch with a good friend who just returned from UPenn about a year ago. She said she felt her heart was in peace, and she was sure about the direction of her career. That was a day in March, Beijing was snowing heavily.

In late June of this year, I submitted the third draft to Voluntas in the office at IQSS, where Prof. Peter Bol treated me so well. We got “minor revision” in early August, and I had a phone call with Sara on the third day after moving to Austin. Life was pretty hectic.

A paper for me has two meanings: the words and numbers for reviewers and readers, and the memories for myself. All things grow, I’m waiting and watching 万物并作,吾以观复.


This empirical study examines knowledge production between 1925 and 2015 in nonprofit and philanthropic studies from quantitative and thematic perspectives. Quantitative results suggest that scholars in this field have been actively generating a considerable amount of literature and a solid intellectual base for developing this field towards a new discipline. Thematic analyses suggest that knowledge production in this field is also growing in cohesion – several main themes have been formed and actively advanced since the 1980s, and the study of volunteering can be identified as a unique core theme of this field. The lack of geographic and cultural diversity is a critical challenge for advancing nonprofit studies. New paradigms are needed for developing this research field and mitigating the tension between academia and practice. Methodological and pedagogical implications, limitations, and future studies are discussed.

Keywords: nonprofit and philanthropic studies; network analysis; knowledge production; paradigm shift; science mapping

Fulltext: https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2834121

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