Globalization and Welfare series
Edited by Adalbert Evers and Jean-Louis Laville
Adalbert Evers and Jean-Louis Laville In the last decade of the twentieth century, it seemed as if Europe was about to rediscover itself through the eyes of an American legacy. What Tocqueville had detected in the formative process of the United States – the role of freely founded associations formed by active citizens – became an important point of reference in Europe for a broad debate on the history and role of a ‘third sector’, and the notion of a ‘non-profit sector’, a label that had been coined in the United States, became a buzzword for both research and public debate. Furthermore, in an increasingly internationalized academic sector, US-led comparative empirical research gave the concept of the non-profit sector a much higher profile. Obviously, Europe has its own legacy of research on third sector issues, but such research has commonly been linked to national discourses and therefore, in contrast to the more recent US-led research, has had little significance at the European level. The diversity of labels and approaches mirrors the broad and different traditions of non-profit organizations in Europe – mutuals, cooperatives, associations, charities and voluntary organizations. Bearing in mind this plurality of movements, organizations and notions, and the new European interest in what has for some years been widely referred to by the neutral term ‘third sector’, the influences from the United States have been of mixed utility. First, the theoretical concepts underlining US contributions to the debate mirror a history that does not correspond to contemporary European reality. In many...