Academics, policy makers and practitioners often stress the need for definition to inform analysis and policy. This paper explores recent debate on the identification of a third sector of organisational activity in the UK. It reviews some leading academic models that have sought to
locate this sector alongside others, and then examines attempts to identify the sector as a focus for policy and practice. The importance of policy discourses in shaping debate and constructing definition is explained and the potentially fractured nature of these discourses is explored. These
are then contrasted with discourses from practice. A distinction is made between exogenous and endogenous approaches to definition, and the implications of each discussed. The paper identifies a strategic unity within discourse in the UK over the last decade and argues that this has been effective
in constituting a unified third sector within policy and practice, albeit one with underlying diversity and potential longer-term instability.
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