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Making Disciplinary-Based Theories of the Nonprofit Sector Accessible for Students: An Example Using a Theory From Political Science

Megan LePere-Schloop, Rebecca Nesbit


Scholars rely on a range of theories from a variety of disciplines to study the nonprofit sector in the United States. Students often struggle to make sense of these theories and understand what they contribute to the knowledge of the sector. We offer a novel pedagogical approach that involves (1) grounding theories within their home discipline and presenting underlying assumptions, providing a pedagogical framework that supports student learning by (2) identifying the levels of analysis relevant to particular theories and facilitating discussion around other theory characteristics, (3) detailing the specific contributions theories make to the field of nonprofit studies, and (4) connecting theories to persistent challenges facing practitioners. We illustrate this approach using Douglas’ market model of democracy, a theory of the sector from political science. Informal student feedback over 2 years of graduate-level instruction underscores the efficacy of this approach and its utility for future instruction.

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pedagogy; theory; nonprofit studies

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