Decoupling the state and the third sector? The ‘big Society’ as a spontaneous order
Macmillan, Rob (2013)


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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