THE FAMILIAR UNKNOWN - Introduction to Third Sector Theories


The "third sector" is a concept which denotes the sphere between state and market.

This study is an attempt to further delineate that field through an evaluation of the existing models and theories which describe it.

It analyses how leading scholars have defined the third sector, the metaphors behind their definitions, and the type and range of theory they use. It also integrates the evaluation of these theories with summaries of social and religious movement and world view studies, in order to develop a model for the study of international NGOs.

HISTORY: The roots of the Western third sector are in Antiquity. There are three basic models in Europe, on how the sharing of responsibilities areregarded. The Catholic model emphasises family responsibility. Lutheranism favours state dominance. The British model sees NPOs as public organs in the service of the community. In the USA the British model has been dominant. Terminological differences reflect the variety of cultural frames.

CONCEPTS: "Third sector" has several parallel concepts such as civil society, philanthropic sector, charitable sector, voluntary sector, nonprofit sector and social economy. Or it is described as a field of intermediary organisations, nongovernmental organisations or social movements.

THEORIES: The studies begun in the 1960s when the leaders of the US foundations did not know the impact of the US tax reform. Economic theories, which were the first third sector theories, have proposed (state-, market-, and voluntary-) failure theories to explain the role of nonprofit organisations. Optimising theories explain the behaviour of the NPOs. Other economic concerns have been labour economics and issues of donations.

In the 1970s historians, sociologists and political scientists devised theories, as well. Sociological research includes general theories, political macro theories, organisational (adaptation-, ecological- and institutional) theories and micro level theories of voluntarism. At the end of the 1980s the focus shifted to comparative international studies. Comparative international studies have focused on varying terminology, legislation and religious/ethnic backgrounds.

Download the document in rtf-format (without index)
Download the document in Word95-format (including index)
Download as zip-file