The third sector economy: Detailed Summary

The workshop will explore how labour is organised in ‘the third sector’ and how accurately the label reflects the variety of practices and values it encompasses. How far is the third sector independent of state and market? Are its activities simply a symptom of state and market failure? Are references to kin, domesticity and community, so often used to describe this sector, merely rhetorical or a way of indicating motives, values and practices quite distinct from those of market transactions? Do associations with family and neighbourhood just serve to valorise and marginalise unremunerated labour?

Some economists want to redefine the classical idea of public goods so that knowledge and the environment, when transacted in markets, do not lose their ‘public’ status. Does the idea of a mediating third sector play a role in this transformation of values and assets?

The first seminar at Goldsmiths considered global shifts of economic power and the implications for mass labour migration. Then the Bologna seminar sought to understand and represent the connections between capital and labour, conceived of as networks, ‘clusters’, or informal links between global and local forms of labour.

The Manchester workshop continues and develops these themes by examining how the third sector is related to ideas of state, market, community and kin. Participants will provide perspectives from anthropology, labour history, unions, the Department for Communities and Local Government and local social movements.

The first panel will address the third sector broadly: why has the idea of local self-organisation become so popular and why is what used to be called ‘voluntary’ now referred to in this way?

The second panel examines a change in the organisation of unions as an instance of third sector development. The shift from shop floor activism to neighbourhood associations taking the form of community unions echoes the old friendly societies.

The final panel considers the role of information technology in the third sector. To what extent does IT enable new forms of economic democracy to emerge, for example web-based activism, new types of labour organisation and virtual production using immaterial labour?

The fourth and last seminar in St. Andrews will address the ethical dilemmas posed by new kinds of work in the context of changing property regimes and patterns of political activity.