Neither in nor against the state – revisiting the role of the third sector in constructing civil society
Alcock, Pete (2016)


Many commentators, both practitioners and academics, have been arguing that the third sector has been undergoing a turbulent period of change in the UK over the last two decades or so – from the hyperactive mainstreaming of the Labour era to the supposed self-sufficiency of the Big Society. This paper will challenge the discourses sometimes associated with these changes, which suggest that the sector has become either too close to the state or has been abandoned by policy makers and public funders. It will argue that recent changes are neither as momentous nor as threatening as these commentators seem to fear; and, that despite the particular features of UK policy and practice, they have also been common across a number of different welfare regimes.

This will be developed through a critical analysis of the concerns about ‘sectorisation’ and a revisiting of the notion of ‘strategic unity’ as a means of understanding policy and practice in the third sector. It will then explain and explore the notion of ‘interdependence’ as a more effective way of conceiving relations between third sector, public and market actors. Finally it will conclude with an analysis of the notion of Civil Society as the basis for renewed debate about the importance of collective action in society, and the role that third sector

Pete Alcock has been teaching and researching in social policy for forty years. He joined the University of Birmingham in 1998. From 2003-2008 he was Head of the School of Social Sciences at Birmingham, from 2008-2014 he was Director of the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC), and since 2013 he has been Director of the University’s ESRC Doctoral Training Centre. He is author and editor of a number of leading books on social policy and his research has covered the fields of poverty and anti-poverty policy, social security, and the role of the UK third sector.


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