Research on voluntary action often seems, somewhat unwittingly, to work with a relatively fixed conception of a ‘sector’ consisting of bounded organisational entities: individual charities, community groups and social enterprises. This paper attempts to move beyond this conception by offering an alternative relational account of voluntary action. Drawing from field theory in economic sociology, this perspective emphasises the crowded, porous and dynamic social space of contested positions, discourses, relations and interactions between individuals and organisations typically grouped together as a ‘sector’.
This seminar aims to shed light on the unfolding organisation and operation of multiple and overlapping fields of voluntary action. It outlines and illustrates some key conceptual tools in field theory using examples taken firstly from qualitative research with voluntary organisations in advice and family support services, and secondly from the wider promotion of agendas around ‘impact’ and social investment.
Rob Macmillan is a Research Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre. His research interests primarily focus on capacity building and infrastructure, and the relationship between markets and the third sector.