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Towards a European Conceptualization of the Third Sector

Accountability and Social Accounting for Social and Non-Profit Organizations

ISBN: 978-1-78441-005-6, eISBN: 978-1-78441-004-9

Publication date: 27 November 2014


There is still no universal definition of the third sector in Europe, but it can be seen as including all types of non-governmental not-for-profit entities such as non-profit organizations, mutuals, cooperatives, social enterprises and foundations. This article attempts to make sense of the current shifting conceptualization of the third sector in Europe. It is based on short country summaries of the images and concepts of the third sector in 13 European countries by EMES Network’s members, first presented in 2008 (Defourny and Pestoff, 2008; nine of them were recently revised and are found in the appendix to this article.). The perception and development of the third sector in Europe is closely related to the other major social governance institutions/mechanisms, like the market, state and community and through the third sector’s interaction with them. Moreover, many third sector organizations (TSOs) overlap with these other social institutions, resulting in varying degrees of hybridity and internal tensions experienced by them. TSOs can generate resources from their activities on the market, by providing services in partnership with the state and/or by promoting the interests of a given community or group. The country overviews document a growing professionalization of TSOs in most countries and a growing dependency of public funds to provide services. This has important theoretical and practical implications for orienting the articles included in this book. Thus, it can provide a key for better understanding the discussion and analysis in the remainder of this volume.



Defourny, J. and Pestoff, V. (2014), "Towards a European Conceptualization of the Third Sector", Accountability and Social Accounting for Social and Non-Profit Organizations (Advances in Public Interest Accounting, Vol. 17), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 25-87.



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