The Third Sector in Europe
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The Third Sector in Europe

Edited by Adalbert Evers and Jean-Louis Laville

This book explores Europe’s third sector – the non-profit organisations and providers of social services such as mutuals, co-operatives, associations, voluntary organisations and charities: these elements of a civil society are important yet often overlooked features in contemporary socio-economics and social policy.
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Chapter 1: Defining the third sector in Europe

Adalbert Evers and Jean-Louis Laville


Adalbert Evers and Jean-Louis Laville (in collaboration with Carlo Borzaga, Jacques Defourny, Jane Lewis, Marthe Nyssens and Victor Pestoff) Current academic debates about the third sector in journals and readers are to a high degree international, with scholars from various countries contributing to a seemingly shared corpus of theory. Yet the participants in that international debate know not only that the characteristics of the third sector vary from country to country but that the approaches they use are shaped by special national and regional traditions, both in the academic sphere and in regard to cultural and political development. This chapter addresses this contradiction with respect to the debate in Europe and a US-led debate whose parameters, though they often pretend to be universal, are characterized by the specific context in which they have developed. Trying to highlight some specific European features of the third sector and of a multidisciplinary approach towards it may help to establish commonalities and differences and to contribute to an international debate that is more sensitive to regional and national realities and streams of thinking. The specific features of a European approach to the third sector can be summarized on the basis of three parameters: the type of organizations involved, the intermediary nature of the third sector within a ‘welfare pluralism’ or a plural economy, and a sociopolitical dimension that is as important as the economic dimension. Because of these different components, classificatory interpretations of the third sector’s importance that measure its contribution to the economy...

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