Discussion Summary

Manchester University, 15th December 2006

The idea of the third sector economy is rapidly becoming prominent politically in Euro America. This is demonstrated in Britain by the creation of a third sector department within the Cabinet Office and calls from all political parties to recognise and encourage the participation of third sector organisations in public life. Nevertheless, it remains under-researched. One reason might be the fact that so many terms are subsumed under this rubric: the social economy, the voluntary sector, civil society, charity, philanthropy, not-for-profit enterprises etc. Moreover, the definition of each of these areas is imprecise – even if the figures cited for the scope of activity are large: 1 million fulltime workers, 16 million volunteers, 6% of the British economy. The only constant seems to be an indication, or hope, that organisational, associative activity is taking place in a realm outside state, market and kin, even if often linked to these other domains.

The reductive abstraction of the three sector idea is therefore useful for analytical purposes and for the self-exegeses of the people who work within and between these sectors, but is not empirically reflected. The third sector as a term refers to a space for a residual collection of values, organisational structures and activities outside state and market that may indicate the limitations of both – even though practice shows regular and increasing movement of people between the three sectors and constantly shifting hybrid forms. Panel 1: Locating the Third Sector David Lewis, Graham Haughton, Catherine Alexander (discussant)

The first panel considered the history of the concept, divergences between the American and British traditions, links to the emergence of the new states in Africa and the rise of NGOs, and the variety of practices, values and areas within this term. In particular, Etzioni’s three ideal types of power relations (remunerative, coercive and normative) are useful in identifying characteristic features of third sector organisations, although recent organisational theory stresses normativity and value consensus in maximising effective commercial performance and third sector groups are often run on hierarchical principles in practice. Eligibility for funding, whether national or EU, often determines particular structures and activity to conform to ideas of accountability, good governance and transparency. The mixed economy of welfare is long: the key difference now is the intrusive co-ordination of the state or supra-state bureaucracies, a moment that can be dated to 1992/3.

A minor industry has arisen over the quantification of the third sector in different countries focusing on value-driven activities that neither state nor market can provide. In response to a call to quantify the British social economy, issues of definition came to the fore. Should, for example, social cohesion be seen solely as an effect of third sector economic activity – or might this equally well be produced by encouraging commercial activity in depressed urban areas? The assumption that ‘community’ is an inherently positive and egalitarian structure was questioned. Neighbourly disputes are sometimes better managed by a third party such as local government. The weight given to third sector community activity as a means of encouraging growth in deprived areas is dubious when structural forces such as capital flight mean that resources are lacking for effective ‘self-help’. Frequently, the working class is expected to organise themselves to compensate for new lacks and absences resulting from structural change whereas the middle-classes are better catered for by the market. The social economy is thus best seen variously as a strategy or a process of selecting ranges of values.

The open discussion noted that the third sector might be a means of rethinking newly emerging class structures. The genealogy of the term is significant reflecting a process of embedding and disembedding society and economy throughout the twentieth century. The post-war embedded capitalism of welfare states ended in a rift between society and economy in the Thatcherite years; the idea of a social economy arose in response to the need to repair this division. Current state support for the third sector might thus be seen to be directly linked to Labour’s Third Way. In terms of articulation between sectors, the later years of the cold war were characterised by a negative dialectic as the distinction between Soviet state capitalism and welfare states blurred. A separation occurred in the 1980s with the introduction of neo-liberalism. Arguably, in the state’s current efforts to determine the ‘social economy,’ another process of negative dialectic can be observed. The very fact that there is such terminological confusion between apparently different areas of social life suggests that the phase of neo-liberalism is ending.

The intrusiveness of the state suggests that if groups don’t resist and organise on their own terms then they will lose out.

Awareness of the workers’ co-operative movement’s role also emphasises the need for historical changes.

‘Self-empowerment’ whether in Britain or in the South, is often a means of the state entering and controlling communities who now have to prove eligibility to previously automatic rights. Panel 2: From trade unions to community unions Massimiliano Mollona, Carl Roper / Tom Wilson, Jane Wills (discussant)

The second panel considered the relationship between trade unions and local alliances. There has been a long relationship between Trade Union Councils and Trade Unions, the former being the voice of the unions in the community. There are a few, but significant examples, of the role played by the councils in strike actions. The North American example is instructive where Community Labour Councils have run successful campaigns against Walmart (for example). Forming alliances with local organisations, such as TELCO (The East London Communities Organisation) has proved successful in enforcing minimum wages – although there is a tendency for various groups to claim their defining role in successful campaigns. Alongside this there is a traditional ambivalence towards charitable work as symptomatic of state failure and diverting attention away from the cause for such intervention. Information technology is increasingly providing an important lobbying platform outside the unions.

The impact on branch unions of the move from trade unions, focused on the shop floor, to community unions centred on neighbourhood has not always been happy. The US example shows a shift in political form and spaces with a move away from traditional white male leadership to a more inclusive membership, different organisational forms including transnational alliances. Arguably, there are two distinct views of labour: first, the institutional perspective emphasising the commodification of labour and secondly, the Gramscian view of labour as site of exploitation, resistance and freedom that emphasises leadership. Alternatively, these understandings of labour can be seen as complementary, equally essential to an understanding of the labour process. Health and safety issues have become crucial sites of resistance to restructuring.

The discussant noted the parallel erosion of collective and civic culture with the increasing emphasis on individualism and consumerism. The result has been a moral panic over the manifestations of this social disengagement (note the comments above on the rifts produced by 1980s neo-liberalism). With this in mind, the Unions have emerged in relatively good shape but perhaps are failing to recognise the huge significance of the growth of sub-contracting in both service and manufacturing sectors and global outsourcing. It is essential to understand the crucial role of logistics here. The effect is that the ‘real’ employer is now physically and structurally distant, several moves along a supply chain of endless sub-contracting. Shop floor based resistance will therefore have little effect on the big players, whereas networks of alliances spanning the local and global will eventually connect to the headquarters of Next (for example) or Canary Wharf employers, forcing them to acknowledge their supply chains. Labour needs these community alliances for realistic and effective resistance. The London Living Wage campaign was successful because it used these tactics. Telco is successful because it exists beyond specific campaigns and provides a base for the Unions to tap into. The US unions forge permanent alliances.

The open discussion observed that Bangladesh provides a good example of the effect of sub-contracting in the textile industry where garment factories are constantly being reshaped. Over one million women have moved from rural areas into the cities. NGOs are moving into export processing zones to increase awareness of rights at work. Never the less, Bangladesh demonstrates a typical pattern of low unionisation of the largely female migrant workforce which is falling into an unorganised vacuum occasionally filled by faith groups, NGOs etc.

Despite the importance of global supply chains, it is also necessary to locate sources of economic power and not escape into a kind of formless globalism. New forms of political organisation are emerging. Some cities are forming into groups. The trading blocks of the EU and the Shanghai Co-operation Alliance, for example, have considerable economic weight. Moreover there are instances of activist individuals succeeding in linking workers to central HQs (see for example de Neve’s paper for the Bologna seminar). The assumed polarity between local and international is thus frequently incorrect. Panel 3: Ethnographies of the Third Sector Tom Hall, Nicola Frost, Ben Campbell (discussant)

The third panel explored the interplay between state organisations, the market and a variety of community groups through two ethnographies of first, the contested development of Cardiff City Centre and secondly, the process of applying for grants applications from the Australian state by Indonesian immigrant groups. Both ethnographies illustrated the definitional dilemmas outlined by the opening panel and brought out further questions.

Another role of the state was suggested as a tempering intermediary between the unbridled rapacity of the market on the one hand and the potentially equally runaway care of third sector groups on the other. The city itself suggests this tension between physical and social dissolution and the constant work of maintenance, patching and care of both infrastructure and citizens to heal the threat of rifts. City council workers enact and produce the values of the third sector even if they are state employees. The point at which this configuration appears to be threatened is where first, the development of previously derelict land has driven many homeless people into the centre and secondly, commercial pressure to remove soup kitchens from shopping malls may result in care being regulated out of existence. Urban moral geographies (e.g. routes followed by soup kitchens) are being restructured.

Again the issue of intrusive state co-ordination appeared where groups have to demonstrate mechanical cohesion and offer clear representation in order to be eligible for funds. That such neat conformity is rarely found was memorably shown by the dancing displays of Australia’s various immigrant groups. Where the Irish and the Greek performed in tight synchronicity, the Indonesians reflected both the generational waves of migration and the multiplicity of ethnic and faith divisions by more random interpretations of Indonesian dancing.

The discussion noted that the increasing intrusiveness of the state into communities, and the need for disparate individuals and loose groups to represent themselves as communities, also signalled a series of changing forms of order. Open urban space is being reduced, commodified. Funding competitions require the professionalisation of ‘community’ groups. Responsibility and accountability are placed with ‘the people’ as the state withdraws. Thus we need to account for the move from a model of society that was initially unitary – the nation-state that co-located ethnicity and territory – to a pluralized model. In the same way, imperial models were always plural, necessarily relying on home rule or devolution of some kind. This is reflected in the move from talking about ‘the government’ to ‘governance’. The issue now is who is responsible for what?

In terms of urban social order, Engels’ noted a sense of anarchy on the streets in Britain as soon as he arrived in London. In other European countries there is a strong sense of the division between public and private; transitions between the two are carefully managed by social niceties. No such care is immediately apparent in English behaviour. This might be explained by the fact that in the Anglo world, the public is considered to be an extension of the private; there is no separate term for public and private law (as in droit and loi). In the Anglo tradition, the state is the night watchman, guarding against excess, appearing peripherally to people’s lives. On the continent, that state is far more central, as is people’s identification with it and the public sphere. These distinctions are reflected in the life and workers of the street. In Paris, the street worker is king of his domain. In Britain, those who live and work on the street have a more shadowy existence.

The bright orange and yellow jackets indicating the visibility of Cardiff’s care workers, has come to afford their wearer invisibility through the very ubiquity of such clothing. There is an irony therefore in that young offenders on Community Service Orders are often required to wear such jackets and carry out work (such as painting railings) in the open, in the streets, in order to display themselves and their activity (even if there might be more ‘value-added’ to an indoor activity). ‘Prestation’, as used by Mauss in The Gift, is more accurately translated as corvee labour: an obligation to give labour to the community.

(Summaries above by Catherine Alexander)