The Global Growth and Current Scope of Altruistics: Research on the Voluntary and Nonprofit Sector
Horton-Smith, David (2013)

David Horton Smith (Boston College, MA)

This Lecture sketches the development and current scope of the organized, interdisciplinary, global field and emerging academic discipline of altruistics, focusing mainly on researcher associations founded since ARNOVA in 1971, and on altruistics academic journals. About 55 interdisciplinary altruistics researcher associations have been founded worldwide since ARNOVA (47 described here; including 9 defunct), most of them national in geographic scope, but some covering a world region or global. Over 80 academic journals on altruistics or its sub-topics have been published, with 71 active ones described here. Brief attention is also given to formal sections (sub-groups) on altruistics of professional associations, altruistics colleges/schools within universities, altruistics departments within universities, and altruistics research centers/institutes. The author estimates conservatively that there are at least 8,000 active altruistics researchers worldwide, and perhaps as many as 20,000.

The author devised the neologism altruistics to refer to the study of all the phenomena of our field, individual and collective, past and present. Included are philanthropy, charity, the voluntary sector, nonprofit sector, third sector, civil society (sector), social economy, solidarity economy, volunteering, civic engagement, self-help groups, voluntary associations, nonprofit agencies, and nonprofit organizations/NGOs, among other topics. The term altruistics is similar to the term linguistics. Where linguistics studies all aspects of human languages, altruistics studies all forms of altruism, human and non-human.


David is at present Research Professor and Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA. He is in the UK in Spring 2013 as an Honorary Visiting Professor of Altruistics and Community Engagement at the School of Allied Health Professions, University of East Anglia, in Norwich, UK (supported also by a U.S. Fulbright Commission Senior Specialist Distinguished Visiting Lecturer Award/Grant).

David is the Founding President of ICSERA (, the International Council of Voluntarism, Civil Society, and Social Economy Researcher Associations. ICSERA is a unique, global, nonprofit sector, infrastructure organization and (umbrella) association of associations, not of individuals. In addition, he is an Honorary Visiting Professor of Non Profit Research, Cass Business School, City University London, UK; Visiting Scholar, NGO Research Center, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China; Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of Urban Economics and Public Management, Capital University of Economics and Business, Beijing, China; and Honorary Visiting Professor of Altruistics, Centre for Studies of Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector, Higher School of Economics, National Research University, Moscow, Russia.

David earned his Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University (1965). He founded ARNOVA, the first and largest international association of altruistics researchers, and NVSQ journal (1971). He later founded IVAR-VOIR, as the 2nd international association of individual voluntarism researchers, now defunct (1978-1983), with many more nations represented. The author of GRASSROOTS ASSOCIATIONS (Sage, 2000) and first co-author of A DICTIONARY OF NONPROFIT TERMS AND CONCEPTS (Indiana University Press, 2006), David won the ARNOVA Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Contribution to Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research in 1993, the first year it was awarded. He is the first Co-Editor of the PALGRAVE RESEARCH HANDBOOK OF VOLUNTEERING AND NONPROFIT ASSOCIATIONS (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). He is currently writing the book DEVIANT VOLUNTARY ASSOCIATIONS: NOXIOUS, DISSENTING, AND ECCENTRIC VERSIONS OF THE DARK ENERGY OF THE ANGELIC NONPROFIT SECTOR. His bio entry is one of 139 included in the International Encyclopedia of Civil Society (Springer 2010) as outstanding nonprofit sector leaders, theorists, and researchers from all of world history and all nations. His bio has also been included in Marquis’ WHO’S WHO IN THE WORLD (since 2001) and in WHO’S WHO IN AMERICA (since 2000).

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