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'Distinction' in the third sector

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Claims for the distinctiveness of third sector organisations are a relatively widespread and familiar feature of third sector commentary and analysis. This paper reviews relevant theoretical and empirical research to examine the idea of distinctiveness, arguing that such claims remain inconclusive. Informed by a view of the third sector as a contested 'field', and drawing on Bourdieu's notion of 'distinction', the paper suggests that research attention should focus additionally on the strategic purpose of claims for distinctiveness, rather than simply continue what might be a 'holy grail' search for its existence. The paper uses this argument to complicate and extend the idea of the third sector as a 'strategic unity', and concludes by suggesting some further lines of enquiry for third sector research.
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Keywords: BOURDIEU; DISTINCTION; DISTINCTIVENESS; STRATEGIC UNITY; THIRD SECTOR

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2013

More about this publication?
  • 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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