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Decoupling the state and the third sector? The 'big Society' as a spontaneous order

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Despite a largely indifferent and otherwise sceptical public reception, the 'Big Society' has remained a central feature of the Conservative-led coalition's project in the United Kingdom. This article asks what the Big Society might mean for the 'third sector' of voluntary organisations, community groups and social enterprises. The previous Labour government's approach has been characterised as the development of a closer 'partnership' between state and the third sector. However, a partial decoupling may now be under way in the new political and economic context. Theoretically, this might signal a shift away from the idea of interdependence between the state and the third sector, and towards a model involving separate spheres: from partnership to an emergent 'trial separation'. The article draws on Friedrich Hayek's theory of 'spontaneous order', suggesting that the Big Society involves some implicit Hayekian assumptions. It concludes by considering the implications of regarding the third sector in such terms.
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Keywords: BIG SOCIETY; HAYEK; SPONTANEOUS ORDER; THIRD SECTOR

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 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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