8: The moving frontier and beyond: the third sector and social policy

This chapter claims that the third sector has been marginalised in much social policy scholarship, and overlooked in the analysis of welfare policies, institutions and outcomes. This is in part because of entrenched assumptions about ‘sectors’, in which the state, and latterly the market, are privileged in social policy thinking. Moreover, this picture has arguably been reinforced by the efforts of specialist third sector scholars to identify and define a distinctive and valuable realm of activities for enquiry. Rather than invoking a single ‘moving frontier’ to account for historical as well as recent and ongoing shifts in the evolving mixed economy of welfare, the chapter argues in favour of a distinctive and differentiated field-based understanding of social policy. The third sector’s contribution to social policy emerges as contested, varied, fluid and shaped by institutions and socio-political forces and processes in complex ways.

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