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Thinking beyond borderlines: a 'German gaze' on a changing interface between society and the voluntary sector

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For some time now, throughout the Western world, profound changes have been taking place in the ways in which society and the voluntary sector interact. These changes are made manifest, among other things, in rising concerns about the sector's independence and its entrepreneurial, commercial turn. This paper argues that to make sense of these changes, a 'German gaze' may be useful in that it rises above some of the shortcomings of the liberal, widely Anglo-Saxon, tradition of understanding the relation between the sector and both its political and economic environment. Avoiding dichotomous distinctions between state and civil society on the one hand, and between voluntarism and economic action on the other, this gaze helps illuminate the two-fold dynamic interface that constitutes, and permanently recreates, the voluntary sector in advanced Western societies. The argument is developed by drawing on evidence from the social welfare sector, for both Germany and Britain.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 2010

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  • Voluntary Sector Review publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed, accessible papers on third sector research, policy and practice. It is an invaluable cutting-edge resource for all those researching or working in the fast-growing voluntary, community and wider third sectors.

    The journal covers the full range of issues relevant to voluntary sector studies, including: definitional and theoretical debates; management and organisational development; financial and human resources; philanthropy; volunteering and employment; regulation and charity law; service delivery; civic engagement; industry and sub-sector dimensions; relations with other sectors; social enterprise; evaluation and impact. Voluntary Sector Review covers voluntary sector studies from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, social policy, politics, psychology, economics, business studies, social anthropology, philosophy and ethics. The journal includes work from the UK and Europe, and beyond, where cross-national comparisons are illuminating. With dedicated expert policy and practice sections, Voluntary Sector Review also provides an essential forum for the exchange of ideas and new thinking.

    Rigorous and stimulating, Voluntary Sector Review is an indispensable tool for everyone who values empirically-grounded, theoretically-informed and policy-relevant reviews of the future direction of the voluntary sector.

    Editors: Nick Acheson (Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland), Bernard Harris (University of Strathclyde, UK), Rob Macmillan, (University of Birmingham, UK)

    The journal is published in association with the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) and a print copy of the journal is a membership benefit.

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