Complicity or Resistance: agency, discourse, and the third sector in post-banking crisis welfare reform
Acheson, Nick (2013)

Dr Nick Acheson, Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, University of Ulster


A profound reshaping of the relationship between the third sector and state and non-state actors in the new welfare spaces after the economic crash poses questions about how these spaces are co-constructed by actors within them. Current theories of organizational agency and change in third sector scholarship are proving inadequate to the task of understanding the role of TSOs. This paper discusses the nature of the current changes and the challenges they present to a third sector research agenda, presents a critique of current theoretical approaches to TSO adaptation and change and argues for the need to adapt insights from the ‘discursive turn’ in political science in order to properly understand the relationship between third sector agency and the changes underway. It considers two linked but contrasting approaches to discourse analysis that offer a basis for research on how the third sector co-constructs a radically altered welfare landscape. The paper argues that there is an urgent need to rethink theoretical approaches if third sector research is to retain the capacity to critique current trends rather than simply report them.

Author biography

Dr Nick Acheson is currently Lecturer in Social Policy and a member of the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Ulster. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Third Sector Research Centre and a member of the Editorial Management Board of Voluntary Sector Review. He has published widely on third sector research in both jurisdictions in Ireland, the UK and Canada.

Recent pubications include:

  • Acheson, N. (2010) Welfare State Reform, compacts and restructuring relations between the state and the voluntary sector: reflections on Northern Ireland experience. Voluntary Sector Review: an international journal of third sector research, policy and practice, 1 (2). pp. 175-192
  • Acheson, N. (2011) A Case of avoiding “political mumbo jumbo”: Do collective identities within ethnically diverse voluntary associations spill over to other contexts? Reflections on Northern Ireland experience. Policy & Politics, 39 (2), pp. 203-220.
  • Acheson, N. (2012) ‘From Group recognition to Labour Market Insertion: Civil Society and Canada’s Changing Immigrant Settlement Regime’ British Journal of Canadian Studies25 (2) 231-252
  • Acheson, N., and S. Hodgett (2012) ‘Narratives of Citizenship: welfare state reform and civil society in Canada’ British Journal of Canadian Studies 25 (2) 151-160
  • Acheson, N. (2013) ‘Citizen Advocacy or Death from a Thousand Cuts: What determines the fate of the third sector organizations in welfare states after the economic crisis? A view from Ireland’s two jurisdictions’ in R. Laforest (Ed) The Recession and Beyond: Taking Stock of Evolving Government-Nonprofit Relationships, Montreal: McGill and Queens University Press
  • Acheson, N. and R. Laforest (2013 forthcoming) ‘The Expendables: Community Organizations and Governance Dynamics in the Canadian Settlement Sector’, Canadian Journal of Political Science
  • N. Acheson and D.W. Mullins (forthcoming) ‘Competing Drivers of hybridity: third sector housing organizations in Northern Ireland’ Voluntas: International Review of Third Sector Research

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