For some time now, throughout the Western world, profound changes have been taking place in the ways in which society and the voluntary sector interact. These changes are made manifest, among other things, in rising concerns about the sector’s independence and its entrepreneurial, commercial
turn. This paper argues that to make sense of these changes, a ‘German gaze’ may be useful in that it rises above some of the shortcomings of the liberal, widely Anglo-Saxon, tradition of understanding the relation between the sector and both its political and economic environment. Avoiding
dichotomous distinctions between state and civil society on the one hand, and between voluntarism and economic action on the other, this gaze helps illuminate the two-fold dynamic interface that constitutes, and permanently recreates, the voluntary sector in advanced Western societies. The
argument is developed by drawing on evidence from the social welfare sector, for both Germany and Britain.
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