Purpose – This chapter assesses the role of self-help groups within the emerging civil society in two transitional economies, Croatia and Slovenia, focusing on the impact of relationships with health or social care professionals and the state.
Methodology – Methods include participant observation, interviews, and document analysis of 31 groups studied intermittently from 2001 to 2007.
Findings – Self-help groups range from those three decades old to those dealing with “new social problems.” Groups, and the third sector generally, remain essentially dependent on the state. Few exist separately from formal service organizations. Those closely linked with medical institutions are challenged by state retrenchment and privatization. Others contend with funding instability, and Western models of non-profit development are expanding. Relationships with professionals are neither subservient nor independent; instead, groups act as corollaries and educators to the professional realm.
Implications, limitations, and value – Findings suggest more nuances in self-help groups' relations with the state and professionals than found in Western settings. This may illustrate both the potential and the limits of citizen involvement in new non-governmental sectors. It also demonstrates how relations between professionals and self-help groups depend on social and material relations well beyond the domain of systems of care. While specific findings cannot be generalized beyond the research settings, the study shows the importance of understanding such groups within social and political contexts. Contributions to civil society here included re-making public meanings, identities, and relations with professionalized systems. Further comparative assessment of self-help associations is essential to theory on the third sector in civil society.