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Distinguished Achievement and Leadership in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research

Monday, November 28, 2016   (0 Comments)
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The Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action

presents the


Distinguished Achievement and Leadership in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research



Dr. Thomasina Borkman


On behalf of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, the Selection Committee for the Award for Distinguished Achievement and Leadership in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research (formerly called the Award for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement) is pleased to name Dr. Thomasina Borkman the recipient for 2016.  Dr. Borkman is Professor of Sociology, Emerita, at the George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia).


The members of the Selection Committee for the Award, Drs. Jeffrey Brudney (Chair), Eleanor Brown, Kirsten Gronbjerg, David Hammack, and Kelly LeRoux, congratulate Dr. Borkman on this well-deserved honor.


The Selection Committee is unanimous in naming Dr. Thomasina Borkman as the 27th recipient of the Award for Distinguished Achievement and Leadership in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research.  The criteria for the Award state, “This award is given annually for significant and sustained contributions to the field through research and leadership. Nominees must have demonstrated outstanding achievement(s) in the field of nonprofit and voluntary action research and/or significant leadership achievements in the advancement and promotion of such research over an extended period of time.”


Dr. Thomasina Borkman merits this Award.  With respect to the research contribution, the Selection Committee acknowledges the comments of Dr. Joyce Rothschild, Professor of Government and International Affairs, at the School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech University (Blacksburg, VA). Dr. Rothschild writes about Dr. Borkman:


“A century ago, Max Weber founded the discipline of Sociology on the insight that modernization would bring bureaucratization processes to all domains of social life -- to not-for-profit endeavors along with for-profit and public sector endeavors.  His insights about the rationale and appeal of bureaucracy have been validated over and over again in the ensuing century, and in countless settings, and his famous concern that bureaucracy would erect an ‘iron cage’ that would capture and limit the freedom of all members has been validated equally well.  Thomasina Borkman’s work is important precisely because she highlights for us an important counter example: a case where bureaucratization has not been the choice of the leaders or members and where it would not have well served their needs.  This is the case, of course, of the self-help groups which Thomasina has examined over the span of her career.  In these groups, which now number in the hundreds of thousands, members come together because they find themselves in the same boat and with a common problem that is causing them pain.  They could call in the ‘experts’ to tell them what to do, but from experience they have learned that this ‘remedy’ will not solve their problems.  Instead, they have found that if they come together as peers and share the benefit of their experiences on an equal footingthey have a much better chance of the personal transformation and mutual support they seek.  So, this is how they proceed.  Thus, Thomasina’s detailed career-long inquiry into the workings of the self-help groups has provided scholars and practitioners with a supremely good explanation of why shared experience by ordinary people, participating as equals and without hierarchies, can offer an effective alternative to the bureaucratic way of doing things.”


Consistent with Dr. Rothschild’s observations, the Award Selection Committee notes that Dr. Borkman’s valuable research on “self-help groups” -- for which she is perhaps best-known -- helped her to earn the title from the American Sociological Association as “The Applied Theorist with an Academic Day Job.”  Focusing on the value of experiential knowledge as opposed to academic or professional knowledge, Dr. Borkman provided the insight early in her career that “rather than being ‘huddle-together’ groups as characterized by the research literature, they were self-organizing, problem-solving, self-help mutual aid groups who challenged the public’s perception of them.”  A rich cache of peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and edited volumes reinforces and develops this conception and attests that Dr. Borkman is a leader, if not founder, in research on the social movement of self-help or mutual aid groups not only in North America but also internationally.


Dr. Borkman has studied self-help or mutual aid groups since 1970 -- a time before they had a formal title or designation -- through the present day when they have become institutionalized as “support groups” in the United States and in some other countries such as Germany, Sweden and Norway.  She has advanced this field by identifying four traditions of research on self-help or mutual aid groups that had operated almost like silos: (1) addictions (such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other “12 step” self-help or mutual aid groups); (2) psycho-social in North America (which emphasized mental health groups and benefits for members);  (3) psycho-social in Europe (which considered the impact of groups not just on individuals but also the community);  and (4) international development.  Her research helped not only to identify these four traditions but also to build bridges across the silos to inform and pollinate them with the others’ concepts, insights, methodologies, and findings.  Appropriately, she was asked to serve as Guest Editor of the International Journal of Self Help and Self Care from 2009 through 2010 and, shortly thereafter, to become Editor from 2011 through 2014.  


Dr. Borkman’s work with ARNOVA, and with the International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR), has opened up enriching and expansive international opportunities for scholars on self-help and mutual aid.  She has held visiting professorships in England and in Taiwan; a Fulbright Fellowship in Canada; and conducted research with colleagues on-site in Sweden, England, and in the United States.  She has been invited to deliver more than 19 keynote presentations internationally, in Canada, Sweden, Norway, England, Northern Ireland, Finland, Ireland, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan.


With respect to leadership in the field, Dr. Borkman’s record is equally impressive.  When Surgeon General Everett Koop convened the first major conference on Self-Help and Public Health in 1987, Dr. Borkman was named to the Planning Committee and was invited to participate as a researcher.  She subsequently received a grant from the National Council on Self-Help and Public Health (1989-1991), a public advisory body established by the Surgeon General to advise government agencies on incorporating self-help and mutual aid groups into health programming. 


Dr. Thomasina Borkman’s contributions to ARNOVA began in 1976, when she attended and presented research at the Annual Conference.  She won election to the Board of Directors of the Association and later became President of the Association in 1991 and 1992 -- a critical time in the history of ARNOVA during which it underwent the fundamental transition from a voluntary association to a paid-staff nonprofit organization with a budget, regular office, and support.


Working with other leaders of the new ARNOVA, Dr. Borkman helped guide the Association through the crucial processes involved in re-naming the Association from the “Association of Voluntary Action Scholars” (AVAS) to the “Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action” (ARNOVA).  During her tenure ARNOVA also elected to change the name of the journal it sponsors form the Journal of Voluntary Action Research (JVAR) to Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ); she served on the editorial board of both journals.


The Selection Committee and the Association appreciate Dr. Borkman’s leadership in effecting these major and successful changes that have helped to foster the growth and activities of ARNOVA.


In recognition of these accomplishments, the ARNOVA Award Selection Committee recognizes Dr. Thomasina Borkman as the recipient of the 2016 Award for Distinguished Achievement and Leadership in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research.



    1. Professor, Government and International Affairs

Joyce Rothschild

Professor, Government and International Affairs



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