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Change and the practices of actors in civil society: towards an interpretivist exploration of agency in third sector scholarship

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A profound reshaping of the relationship between the third sector and state and non-state actors in the new welfare spaces after the economic crash poses questions about how these spaces are co-constructed by actors within them. Third sector scholarship has typically sought to address these questions as if third sector organisations were injured parties being compelled to adapt to survive, and this is matched by a lack of theoretical and empirical attention to the active role played by third sector organisations in constructing these spaces. This article offers a critique of a third sector paradigm for being too rooted in rational actor and historical institutionalism, too focused on organisational adaptation to existing norms and too passive. It argues for a radically decentred interpretivist methodology that will capture the intense struggle over meaning that constitutes civil society and in which third sector narratives are themselves rhetorical weapons.
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Keywords: AGENCY; INSTITUTIONALISM; INTERPRETIVISM; THIRD SECTOR

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Ulster, UK n. [email protected] ac. uk

Publication date: November 2014

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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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