Table of Contents

  • The area between state, market and private households has been given many names and much attention during the last fifteen years in most postindustrial societies. Whether we call it voluntary sector, intermediating area, third sector, civic society organisations or non-profit-organisations, this field has become a promising object of various expectations. For example, in most of the contemporary late-industrial societies, strong concern about the future of welfare services and growing awareness about the weakening of traditional democratic structures have emerged side by side. In the political discourse, solutions for these troubles are increasingly hoped to be found in non-profit-organisations and active citizenship.

  • In times when the experience of a well functioning national welfare state is constantly shuddered, not only the tasks of the welfare state but also those of civic society, mutual responsibility and areas of citizens’ self help are frequently being re-defined. Hence, the significance of the third sector in one of the most successful and stable circumstances of welfare states – in Northern Europe – is of great interest.

  • In times when the experience of a well functioning national welfare state is constantly shuddered, not only the tasks of the welfare state but also those of civic society, mutual responsibility and areas of citizens' self help are frequently being re-defined. As Adalbert and Jean-Louis Laville (2004b, 29) state, the future of the welfare states and that of the third sector – a societal area consisting of a variety of citizens’ organisations – seem to be highly interrelated. Also, Helmut K. Anheier (2001, 57) suggests that the strong hopes, expectations, and also apprehension, related to the third sector are mirroring the changes in the other spheres of society, such as in economics, public services, family, traditional organisations and political parties. Hence, the significance of the third sector in one of the most successful and stable circumstances of welfare states – in Northern Europe – is of great interest.

  • The nearly 800 references from the last 15 years give evidence about a new and rapidly growing research area in the Nordic countries. The general profile of the research area is characterised by a large volume of research in various disciplines. At the same time, research is taking place in quite fragmented settings, having one or two leading centres and a lot of single, detached research projects and researchers in each country. So far, national researches have not been very systematic and there seems to be a poor “sector awareness” of joint research area among the researchers in various disciplines.

  • The achievements of the Nordic third sector and civic society research can be summarised as follows

  • In the entire area of Nordic research of the third sector, research on volunteering represents one of the most developed, extended single fields. It seems also to be the only research issue which keeps its distance to the dominating welfare state point of view and develops its own debates (Nylund 2000, 26; Habermann 2001a). Especially research on motives is theoretically and empirically desirable.

  • Some of the essential tendencies of the current changes in the Nordic welfare politics are more or less directly connected to the field of welfare services and therefore, to the civic society sector, too. Raija Julkunen (2001; see also Anttonen/Sipilä 2000) points out that the elementary shifts in the new welfare policy consist of reduced resources for public services and a silently advancing marketisation of services. This means an increasing mixture of the private, third and public sectors, as well as stronger integration of informal care of family members into the entire system of services. The new thinking is also establishing the tendency that the role of the voluntary sector, welfare organisations and the church is increasing in the politics for marginalised people, for those discriminated and for minorities. In the meantime, these task areas are increasingly run in a projectised manner instead of institutional structures, while the general, universal responsibility of the state is becoming distanced and more selective.