ePapers Repository

‘Distinction’ in the third sector

Macmillan, Rob (2012) ‘Distinction’ in the third sector. Working Paper. University of Birmingham, Birmingham.


URL of Published Version: http://tsrc.ac.uk/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=JBrzt%2fnpagQ%3d&tabid=500


Claims for the distinctiveness of third sector organisations are a relatively widespread and familiar feature of third sector commentary and analysis. This paper reviews relevant theoretical and empirical research to examine the idea of distinctiveness, arguing that such claims remain inconclusive. Informed by a view of the third sector as a contested ‘field’, and drawing on Bourdieu’s notion of ‘distinction’, the paper suggests that research attention should focus additionally on the strategic purpose of claims for distinctiveness, rather than simply continue what might be a ‘holy grail’ search for its existence. The paper uses this argument to complicate and extend the idea of the third sector as a ‘strategic unity’, and concludes by suggesting some further lines of enquiry for third sector research.

Type of Work:Monograph (Working Paper)
School/Faculty:Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
Department:Third Sector Research Centre

6, P. and Leat, D. (1997) ‘Inventing the British voluntary sector by committee: from Wolfenden to Deakin’, Non-Profit Studies, 1(2): 33–45.
Abbott, A. (2001) ‘Things of Boundaries’, in Time Matters: On Theory and Method, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp.261–79.
Alcock, P. (2010) ‘A strategic unity: defining the third sector in the UK’, Voluntary Sector Review, 1(1): 5–24.
Alcock, P. and Kendall, J. (2011) ‘Constituting the third sector: processes of decontestation and contention under the UK labour governments in England’, Voluntas, 22(3): 450–69.
Anheier, H. and Kendall, J. (2002) ‘Interpersonal trust and voluntary associations: examining three approaches’, British Journal of Sociology, 53(3): 343–62.
Baring Foundation (2012) Protecting Independence: the Voluntary Sector in 2012, London: Baring Foundation, Civil Exchange and DH Communications.
Barman, E. A. (2002) ‘Asserting difference: the strategic response of nonprofit organisations to competition’, Social Forces, 80(4): 1191–222.
Bennett, T., Savage, M., Silva, E., Warde, A., Gayo-Cal, M. and Wright, D. (2009) Culture, Class, Distinction, Abingdon: Routledge.
Billis, D. and Glennerster, H. (1998) ‘Human services and the voluntary sector: towards a theory of comparative advantage’, Journal of Social Policy, 27(1): 79–98.
Billis, D. (ed.) (2010) Hybrid Organisations and the Third Sector: Challenges for Practice, Theory and Policy, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Blake, G., Robinson, D. and Smerdon, M. (2006) Living Values: A Report Encouraging Boldness in Third Sector Organisations, London: Community Links.
Bolton. M. (2003) Voluntary Sector Added Value: A Discussion Paper, London: NCVO.
Bourdieu, P. (1979/1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L. (1992) An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Buckingham, H. (2011) ‘Hybridity, diversity and the division of labour in the third sector: what can we learn from homelessness organisations in the UK?’, Voluntary Sector Review, 2(2): 157–75.
Chew, C. and Osborne, S. P. (2008) ‘Strategic positioning in UK. Charities that provide public services: implications of a new integrating model’, Public Money and Management, 28(5): 283–90.
Chew, C. and Osborne, S. P. (2009) ‘Exploring strategic positioning in the UK charitable sector: emerging evidence from charitable organisations that provide public services’, British Journal of Management, 20: 90–105.
Cormack, J. and Stanton, M. (2003) Passionate Leadership: The Characteristics of Outstanding Leaders in the Voluntary Sector – What Sector Leaders think Initial Research Findings, London: Hay Management Group for ACEVO.
Eikenberry, A. M. (2009) ‘Refusing the market: a democratic discourse for voluntary and nonprofit organisations’, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 38(4): 582–96.
Eliot, J. and Piper, R. (2008) Full Value: Public Services and the Third Sector, London: NCVO.
Emirbayer, M. and Johnson, V. (2008) ‘Bourdieu and organisational analysis’, Theory and Society, 37(1): 1–44.
Hansmann, H. (1980) ‘The role of non-profit enterprise’, Yale Law Journal, 89(5): 835–901.
Hibbert, S. A. (1995) ‘The market positioning of British medical charities’, European Journal of Marketing, 29(10): 6–26.
Hopkins, A. (2007) Delivering Public Services: Service Users’ Experiences of the Third Sector. A Report to the Office of the Third Sector by the National Consumer Council, London: National Consumer Council.
Howard, J. and Lever, J. (2011) ‘“New governance spaces”: what generates a participatory disposition in different contexts?’, Voluntary Sector Review, 2(1): 77–95.
James, E. (1987) ‘The nonprofit sector in comparative perspective’, in W.W. Powell (ed.) The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook, New Haven: Yale University Press.
Jochum, V. and Pratten, B. (2008) Values into Action: How Organisations Translate their Values into Practice, London: NCVO.
Kendall, J. and Knapp, M. (1995) ‘A loose and baggy monster’, in J. Davis Smith, C. Rochester and R. Hedley (eds) An introduction to the voluntary sector, London: Routledge, pp. 66–95.
Kirchner, A. (2007) ‘A leadership model for export’, International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, 3(3): 49–55
Knight, B. and Robson, S. (2007) The Value and Independence of the Voluntary Sector, Newcastle: CENTRIS.
Lakoff, G. (1987) Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Leat, D. (1995) Challenging Management: An Exploratory Study of Perceptions of Managers who have Moved from For-profit to Voluntary Organisations, London: VOLPROF/City University Business School.
Lewis, D. (2008) ‘Using life histories in social policy research: the case of third sector/public sector boundary crossing’, Journal of Social Policy, 37(4): 559–78.
Lewis, D. (2010) ‘Encountering hybridity: lessons from individual experiences’ in Billis, D. (ed.)(2010) Hybrid Organisations and the Third Sector: Challenges for Practice, Theory and Policy, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 219–39.
Macmillan, R. (2007) ‘Understanding the idea of ‘grant dependency’ in the voluntary and community sector’, People, Place and Policy Online, 1(1): 30–8, available at
Macmillan, R. (2011) Seeing Things Differently? The Promise of Qualitative Longitudinal Research on the Third Sector, Birmingham: Third Sector Research Centre, TSRC Working Paper 56.
Mullins, D. and Pawson, H. (2010) ‘Housing associations: agents of policy or profits in disguise?’ in D. Billis (ed.) Hybrid Organisations and the Third Sector: Challenges for Practice, Theory and Policy, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.197–218.
Office for National Statistics (2010) Measuring Outcomes for Public Service Users, London: ONS.
Osborne, S. P., Chew, C. and McLaughlin, K. (2008) ‘The once and future pioneers? The innovative capacity of voluntary organisations and the provision of public services: a longitudinal approach’, Public Management Review, 10(1): 51–70.
Parkin, F. (1979) Marxism and Class Theory: A Bourgeois Critique, London: Tavistock.
Phillimore, J., McCabe, A., Soteri-Proctor, A. and Taylor, R. (2010) Understanding the Distinctiveness of Small Scale, Third Sector Activity: The Role of Local Knowledge and Networks in Shaping Below The Radar Actions, Birmingham: Third Sector Research Centre, TSRC Working Paper 33.
Purkis, A. (2010) Housing Associations in England and the Future of Voluntary Organisations, London, Baring Foundation.
Sepulveda, L. (2009) Outsider, Missing Link or Panacea? Some Reflections about the Place of Social Enterprise (with)in and in Relation to the Third Sector, Birmingham: Third Sector Research Centre, TSRC Working Paper 15.
Teasdale, S. (2011) ‘What's in a name? Making sense of social enterprise discourses’, Public Policy and Administration (published online 25 May 2011).

Date:01 October 2012
Series/Collection Name:TSRC Working Paper Series
Keywords:Third sector, distinctiveness, Bourdieu, distinction, strategic unity.
Subjects:H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Related URLs:
Funders:Economic and Social Research Council, Office for Civil Society, Barrow Cadbury Trust
Copyright Holders:Third Sector Research Centre
ID Code:1786

Export Reference As : ASCII + BibTeX + Dublin Core + EndNote + HTML + METS + MODS + OpenURL Object + Reference Manager + Refer + RefWorks
Share this item :
QR Code for this page

Repository Staff Only: item control page