Losing Political Innocence? Finding a place for ideology in understanding the development of recent English third sector policy

The third sector is increasingly being recognised and coaxed into allying purposefully with States, primarily with such strategies framed as ‘problem solving’, ‘partnership’ and ‘governance’. However, such ways of thinking may overstate the extent to which a turn to the third sector can or should supersede debates about ideology. They may also underplay clashes in the values and beliefs of third sector policy actors.

The paper seeks to explicate an ideological dimension to third sector policy by analysing the cross cutting or ‘horizontal’ policy process in England in recent years. Drawing upon the ‘morphological’ approach of Michael Freeden and the cultural theory of Mary Douglas, it considers the specification and perpetuation of ideology in this sphere as involving a two-fold dynamic.

Firstly a de-contestation process, in which common ground has been found in thinking about the sector’s actual and potential contributions, establishing a politically feasible territory for mainstream policy debates. Secondly, a more conflictual process unfolding within such feasible boundaries, in which contrasting emphases and priorities concerning third sector policy play out. Under New Labour, it is argued that three different models can be characterised: a consumerism approach, emphasising the third sector’s contributions in public service quasi-markets; a civil renewal approach, geared towards the third sector as a player in supporting social order; and finally a democratic revival approach, stressing the third sector as an arena in which emancipatory participation can be nurtured and extended.

Research contacts:
Dr Jeremy Kendall