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Law, W. S. (1997) Institutional altruism, invisible hands, and Good Samaritans: An anthropological examination of Hong Kong's Community Chest charity organization. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London.

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Abstract

The discipline of social anthropology has been remarkably inattentive to the phenomenon and organizational practices of 'charity', and, associatedly, has been non-discursive in its treatment of social welfare. In this thesis, I endeavour to indicate that this disciplinary ignorance of charity and social welfare is to be regretted. Through my case-study analysis of the role of a key charitable organization in Hong Kong I hope to convince my readers of the relatively untapped potential of 'an anthropology of charity'. Cultural practices of charity and social welfare are sociologically significant and interesting in their own right, but can also illuminate wider social and political processes and structures from an unusual perspective. Attention to 'charity' has much to offer anthropology, but the obverse also holds, understandably, not been properly mindful of anthropological - particularly ethnographic - approaches. The nucleus of my research is the Community Chest, the most influential nongovernmental charitable organization in the colony (soon to be post-colony) of Hong Kong. In my thesis I examine inter cilia: the setting in which the Community Chest operates; its organizational structures and procedures; the cultural logic of donation; issues of entitlement; and the relationship between donors and recipients of charity. Throughout I am attentive to the linkages between charity provided by fiat is often called 'the voluntary sector', and social welfare as dispensed by the Hong Kong state. A key theme is the extent to which the Community Chest, despite its epithet as a nongovernmental organization, should be viewed as having a definite brokerage role between the state and Hong Kong's people. The institutionalization of altruism, which the Community Chest represents, does not escape the reach of the Hong Kong state. In a deliberate manner I utilize the Community Chest as a prism by which to scrutinize the 'borrowed time and borrowed place' that is contemporary Hong Kong. Not only is Hong Kong a global (and arguably postmodern) city, which has changed dynamically in recent decades, but existentially and psychologically its population is affected by the ever lurking shadow of the PRC regime to which Hong Kong will be handed over in July 1997. The Community Chest was established in 1968 at a time written both the Hong Kong state and society were undergoing radical changes. From the vantage point of the Community Chest I have been able to calibrate the transformations and continuities of the last three decades, and the not insignificant role played by charity and social welfare over that period. In addition to illuminating Hong Kong' s extraordinary contemporary situation, I hope also to have contributed to on-going theoretical debates in anthropology, sinology, and the social sciences generally. There is a burgeoning literature on gift exchange, entitlement, altruism, concepts of need and poverty, the role of NGOs in alleviating hardship, clientelism, and the role of mass media representations. I feel that my fieldwork research makes a contribution to discussion of each of these issues. My work contributes a further perspective from which to understand guanxi (personal networks) and renging (moral norms and human feelings) as axiomatic Chinese cultural constructions. I am also concerned with questions of citizenship, of community, of hybridity, of identity, of belonging, and of nationalism, all of which are especially fraught issues for people in contemporary Hong Kong. Finally, but deserving special mention - one of my chief ambitions has been to appraise the claims that the New Right makes for Hong Kong as the epitome of a ' leissez-faire' policy in which the state's interventions in terms of welfare provision are based on residualist principles. The New Right profess that Hong Kong is the free market economy, and that the voluntary sector and the market provide welfare effectively in the absence of state intervention. My research indicates that the Hong Kong state, despite its laissez-faire rhetoric, has been decisively interventionist. The Community Chest, set up ostensibly to generate and dispense charity from the voluntary sector, is ambivalently entangled with the hidden hands of both big business and the state.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 14:58
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/28504

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