Quotation Meyer, Michael, Burkart, Christian, Maier, Florentine, Terzieva, Berta. 2021. Societal Roles of Nonprofit Organizations: Unearthing Parsonian Roots and Proposing a Systems-Theoretical Synthesis. ARNOVA Annual Conference, Atlanta, GA, Vereinigte Staaten/USA, 17.11.2021-20.11.2021.




Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) fulfill important roles in society, and this has been a consensus and a subject of recurrent interest and concern. Nevertheless, there is no coherent understanding of what fulfilling a societal role means, how such roles fit into a theory of society, and how to frame such roles theoretically. In search of such an understanding, we conducted a systematic literature review of 109 publications published between 1959 and 2021, that deal with the societal roles of NPOs. Based on this literature review, we argue that most previous research has relied on an implicitly functionalist understanding of societal roles that resembles to the AGIL functions outlined by Talcott Parsons. Given the shortcomings of this kind of functionalism, we propose to transfer the role concept into a neofunctionalist, systems-theoretical understanding of society. On this basis, we propose condensing previous role taxonomies into four major societal roles of nonprofit organizations: service delivery, advocacy, integration, and the maintenance or change of latent patterns.


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Publication's profile

Status of publication Published
Affiliation WU
Type of publication Paper presented at an academic conference or symposium
Language English
Title Societal Roles of Nonprofit Organizations: Unearthing Parsonian Roots and Proposing a Systems-Theoretical Synthesis
Event ARNOVA Annual Conference
Year 2021
Date 17.11.2021-20.11.2021
Country United States/USA
Location Atlanta, GA
URL https://www.arnova.org/page/50th


Meyer, Michael (Details)
Burkart, Christian (Former researcher)
Maier, Florentine (Details)
Terzieva, Berta (Details)
Institute for Nonprofit Management IN (Details)
Competence Center for Nonprofit Organizations and Social Entrepreneurship WE (Details)
WU Entrepreneurship Center WE (Details)
Research areas (Ă–STAT Classification 'Statistik Austria')
1142 Systems theory (Details)
5324 Organizational research (Details)
5363 Non-profit-sector research (NPO, NPI) (Details)
5405 Empirical social research (Details)
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