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Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise

Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise

Elgar original reference

Edited by Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni

The recent era of economic turbulence has generated a growing enthusiasm for an increase in new and original economic insights based around the concepts of reciprocity and social enterprise. This stimulating and thought-provoking Handbook not only encourages and supports this growth, but also emphasises and expands upon new topics and issues within the economics discourse.

Chapter 39: Third sector

Jacques Defourny

Subjects: economics and finance, behavioural and experimental economics, economic psychology, public sector economics, politics and public policy, social entrepreneurship, social policy and sociology, economics of social policy


The idea of a distinct third sector, made up of enterprises and organizations which are not part of the traditional private sector nor of the public sector, began to emerge in the mid-1970s. Such organizations were already very active in many areas of activity and were the subject of scientific works and specific public policies in some of these areas. But the idea of bringing these entities all together and the theoretical basis on which this could be done were not really put forward until the late 1970s. In fact, without denying that the general public’s view is still strongly characterized by the historical context of each country, it may be said that two conceptual approaches aiming to embrace the whole third sector gradually spread internationally, accompanied by statistical work aiming to quantify its economic importance. One is the US-based ‘non-profit sector’ approach; the other, mainly French in origin, forged the concept of the ‘social economy’ to bring together cooperatives, mutual societies and associations.

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