Facilitating active citizenship: what role for the third sector?
In its most general sense citizenship is concerned with the rights and obligations of members of
society. Much of the discussion of citizenship over the past sixty years has been influenced by
the work of Marshall (1950), who argued that that there has been a gradual extension of citizen
rights, from civil rights (such as the right to free speech), to political rights (such as the right to
vote), to social rights (the right to welfare). Turner (1992) points out that as well as passive
forms of citizenship (citizenship developed from above) there are active forms (citizenship
developed from below). Historically active citizenship has advanced as citizens have become
autonomous social and political agents who learn to participate and shape their society and the
third sector provides settings for the nurturing of such agents. Indeed, the third sector has been
presented as a privileged site for the socialization and practice of active citizenship, because it
facilitates participation, democracy, associationalism and social capital (Cohen and Rogers,
1995; Hirst, 1994; Putnam, 2000; Warren, 2001). The third sector promises a space for
autonomous action that is independent of both the state and the market. Following the writings of
Tocqueville (2003), third sector organizations are deemed to be ‘schools for democracy’.
This panel will review such claims. Drawing on their own research and the wider literature,
different panel members will investigate how active citizenship is constructed and practised in
third sector settings. For example, practices of active citizenship in the third sector are affected
by the macro-level backdrop as well as the micro-relations of everyday life. The macro context
includes policy settings and governance, discourses and operational rationales. It is important to
understand whether and how ideological shifts affect relations between citizens, the third sector
and the state (Kendall, 2010; Taylor, 2010). The micro-relations of everyday life reveal the
importance of understanding the full meaning of active citizenship as ‘citizenship from below’,
which places agency at the heart of analysis, and opens the way to consideration of the emergent
nature of citizen action, where creative citizenship is a process of flux driven by the search for
responses to new problems (Chiles et al., 2004).
The panel will consider whether and how third sector organizations might be able to facilitate the
changing forms of active citizenship that are emerging as we enter the second decade of the
twenty-first century. They will investigate new challenges and opportunities in a world that is
full of contradictions. For example, socially and culturally, one obvious factor in the changing
context is the growth of the internet and social networking and the possibilities this opens up for
large-scale mobilisation, e-volunteering, new forms of giving, petitioning, and alternative ways
of accessing information. New ways of thinking about risk (Beck, 2009) are accompanied by
calls for both creative entrepreneurship and tighter managerial oversight of organizations.
Politically, real or perceived limits to the resources and legitimacy of the state have increased
opportunities for citizens to be involved in policy making and decision-making (Newman, 2005).
The advance of the market has reinvented the citizen as consumer and this is accompanied by a
trend to individualisation and privatisation at a time when technology means that citizens’ lives
are more subject to surveillance than ever. Globalisation has made possible the cosmopolitan
citizen, whilst also refocusing attention on the local. The widespread movement of people has
also created diasporas where notions of active citizenship cross national boundaries, where new
subjectivities and identities mean the construction of new meanings of citizenship as
transnational agents, while at the same time leading to stateless and marginalised populations, or
what Bauman (2011) describes as ‘collateral damage’. Panel members will consider how the
third sector might respond to such confronting challenges.
Paper Title (Panel Paper)
Active citizenship and the third sector: context matters
Susan Kenny, firstname.lastname@example.org; Deakin University (Presenter)
Since the early 1990s there has been considerable discussion of the ways in which the third
sector nurtures a robust civil society. This paper focuses on a specific theme concerning the role
of third sector organizations in civil society, namely, the generation and facilitation of active
citizenship. As Isin (2008:15) points out, it is now widely recognized that social and political
struggles over citizenship have become more complex and have acquired a new intensity.
Understanding citizenship today requires investigating shifting perceptions of rights and
responsibilities and tracking the emergence of different sites of struggle. Studies of citizenship
also involve analyzing how conditions and practices, including those in the third sector, make
The paper engages, in three ways, with the claim that the third sector has a privileged role in
generating and nurturing active citizenship. First, by examining the complexities of the concept
of active citizenship. Second, by discussing how different kinds of active citizenship are
constructed and practised in various third sector contexts and how we might make sense of these.
Finally, the paper signals some new forms of active citizenship and considers whether third
sector organizations might be able to facilitate these.
The paper begins with a brief overview of key theoretical arguments for the privileging of the
third sector as a site for active citizenship, referring to claims about the associationalist and
democratizing functions of third sector organizations. One of the challenges in analyzing these
claims is the range of ambiguities in the concept of active citizenship. For example, in its
simplest form active citizenship refers to the ways in which citizens engage with and shape their
society: how they contribute to society (their obligations and duties) and how they are supported
and resourced as members (their rights) (Turner, 1992). But there are many proxies for active
citizenship, including participation, social activism, community engagement, empowerment and
volunteering. What is the relationship between active citizenship and participation? How far do
the concepts of community engagement, empowerment and volunteering capture the same
actions and processes as active citizenship? Any discussion of the concept of active citizenship
requires clarification of the overlap, or otherwise, with related concepts. Understanding active
citizenship in the third sector is also complicated by the normative load of active citizenship and
its proxies. Take, for example, the way in which various practices of active citizenship, such as
social participation and volunteering, are understood as civic virtue.
What is clear in these discussions is that active citizenship is not a simple concept that involves
one set of meanings, virtues and practices. It is multi-faceted and fluid. There are many ways in
which people enact themselves as citizens (Isin, 2008:16), with a corresponding range of models
and classificatory constructions. One way of making sense of the differences in the meanings and
practices of active citizenship is to locate them in the operating rationales of third sector
organizations. The idea of operating rationale refers to values, assumptions and principles
underpinning organisational structures, everyday activities and social relations (Kenny, 2003).
Operating rationales provide organisational logics and are manifested in specific discourses of
rights and obligations. They set the immediate context of active citizenship in a third sector
organization. They are both affected by, and contribute to the social practices and dispositions,
which are part of what Bourdieu (1977) identifies as habitus. The paper argues that different
operating rationales can facilitate (or hinder) contrasting constructions and practices of active
citizenship, and it provides empirical examples from studies of active citizenship in Australia,
the United Kingdom, Russia, Indonesia and several European countries.
The final part of the paper opens up the question, which will be considered further by the other
panellists, of the response of the third sector to changes in active citizenship. The focus of this
particular discussion is whether and how third sector organizations constructed around
established operating rationales might nurture new forms of active citizenship, such as those
which are individualized, virtual, transnational and cosmopolitan.
Paper Title (Panel Paper)
Active Citizenship and the emergence of networks
Jenny Onyx, email@example.com; University of Technology, Sydney (Presenter)
Turner (1992) among others emphasises the importance of active citizenship, which involves
people shaping rights and obligations through their participation in society, as active rather than
passive citizens. Humans are viewed as autonomous self-determining beings , as agents who
shape and change society. (Touraine, 2000). Active citizenship places agency at the centre of
societal development. Crucially, the focus on agency has opened up citizenship research to
questions about different ways of being citizens and how subjects enact themselves as citizens.
The third sector nurtures and facilitates citizenship. The importance of third sector organisations
in developing the networks of trust and mutuality that comprise social capital has been illustrated
in the research by Putnam (2000). But what of the ordinary, everyday lived reality of active
citizenship, and of maintaining community? What are the actual processes and structures that
underpin social capital, community capacity and active citizenship?
In this paper, I argue that while third sector organizations are crucial in the maintenance of civil
society, in order to understand active citizenship and the formation of third sector organizations,
we need to look beneath the surface manifestation of these organizations, and understand their
emergent nature. The vast majority of civil society networks and organizations are formed from
below, emergent from the dynamic and creative turmoil which is driven by social disequilibrium
and the search for new responses to current issues and problems. Not all networks become fully
fledged and recognized associational forms. All such emergent networks go through a period of
formation, much of which will be invisible to the outsider, and lack any coherent shape. Some
on-line activist organizations may well remain a loose and mutually supportive network of
individual agents. Other embryonic networks may remain as informal friendship networks or
loose connections between residents of a given area. Such loose networks may remain dormant
for most of the time, but have the potential to be activated into more formal networks in the
event of an emergency, such as a bush fire, or need for political action in defense of a threatened
amenity. Others will gradually form into stable ongoing third sector organizations to meet a
continuing community need.
To better understand the mechanisms influencing people’s shared capacity for action, I draw on
recent developments in complexity theory. Chia (1999) argues that we need a “rhizomic model”
of organizations, in which change and transformation is the norm. We need to shift our thinking
from assumptions of institutionalized structure and stability to one of flux, in which “all things
flow” in a continuous process of becoming, in which what IS now contains the traces of what
was, and the seeds of what is yet to be, that is the principle of immanence.
Complexity theory offers an insight into the fundamental issue of emergence (Chiles et al, 2004).
It offers an explanation for “how system-level order spontaneously arises from the action and
repeated interaction of lower level system components without intervention by a central
controller” (Chiles et al, 2004, p.501). This theoretical approach can be applied to emergent self-
organizing networks within civil society.
Complexity theory suggests a number of crucial dynamics that may explain the process of the
self-organizing emergence of networks. First, they emerge out of states of disequilibrium, or a
tension between disequilibrium and equilibrium in the wider context (Plowman et al, 2007).
Second, this state of disequilibrium draws agents together. These agents may be individuals, or
organizations or both. These agents interact, discuss, and explore options for action. Many
consequent actions are small and localized, involving the active initiative of concerned agents.
Some of these actions will lead nowhere, but others appear promising, and are communicated to
others in the embryonic network. Positive feedback loops are crucial in establishing new modes
of operating. That is, it is essential that some actions lead to some sort of positive outcome,
perhaps partial and temporary, but enough to motivate others. Stability within the embryonic
network is dependent on “deep structures” involving shared intrinsic values, and operating
principles of the participants. Gradually there is a coalescing of relationships into more or less
ongoing networks which then become the basic structure for collective action, and may create
the basis for the formation of a civil society organisation. The paper illustrates the emergence of
civil society networks from several community case studies in Australia, South America and
Paper Title (Panel Paper)
Rebalancing the relationship between citizen and state
Marilyn E. Taylor, firstname.lastname@example.org; University of the West of England (Presenter)
Recent decades have seen a shift from government to governance in many countries, which has
the potential to change the relationship between citizens and the state (Rhodes, 1997; Kooiman,
2003; Newman, 2005). As part of this shift, the concept of active citizenship has been promoted
by governments in England, as elsewhere, at least since the 1980s. But the context in which it
has been promoted has varied considerably over the past twenty-five years or so, according to the
ideological persuasion of the government of the time, leading to different understandings of what
active citizenship might mean. There are common themes. All three governments have
emphasised the theme of the responsible citizen. All three have also embraced the idea of the
citizen as consumer. New Labour and the coalition have also both looked to forms of co-
production, with a strong emphasis on social entrepreneurship and the revival of mutualism.
Despite the similarities, however, the implications for the balance between state and citizen – and
the role of the third sector in promoting citizenship – have been quite different, a difference with
is made starker by the public expenditure cuts that have accompanied the global recession.
Thus, while Margaret Thatcher’s neo-liberal government promoted the individual active citizen
who took care of his/her neighbours, the New Labour government that followed focused on
active communities working in partnership with government, as part of what was originally
called a ‘third way’. The current coalition government, by contrast, is offering communities the
opportunities to break free from the state and take over its assets and services, as well as funding
a community organising programme which has the potential to challenge existing centres of
While some see these developments as offering new opportunities to citizens and to third sector
organisations, others draw on governmentality theory, to suggest that, while governing is
increasingly taking place at a distance from the state, citizens/subjects still become willingly
compliant in the exercise of dominant forms of power (Rabinow, 1984; Miller and Rose, 2009).
Building on previous work by the author (Taylor, 2010) as well as others (Kendall, 2010), this
paper will review the different ideological approaches to active citizenship in England over the
past thirty years and the differing roles of state, third sector and citizen in each. It will then
review empirical evidence from some of the programmes introduced by the different
governments and consider the extent to which they offer a new and liberating balance between
state, third sector and citizen or simply represent different forms of co-option. It will conclude by
asking what this experience tells us about the optimal balance between state, third sector and
citizen in promoting a healthy democratic society.
Paper Title (Panel Paper)
Narratives of active citizenship: how people become and stay involved in different types of
participation over their lifetime
Ellie Brodie, Ellie.Brodie@ncvo-vol.org.uk; NCVO, The National Council for Voluntary
The literature on the realms and activities that constitute the expression of active citizenship tend
to concentrate on one type of participation such as volunteering, or on a single activity such as
voting. It tends to ignore the fluid and dynamic relationship between different activities and their
overlapping boundaries, and the nature of people’s participation over time. This paper presents
findings from the Pathways through Participation project: a qualitative research study that
brought together three UK charities - the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO),
the Institute of Volunteering Research (IVR) and Involve – to investigate what maintains and
sustains active citizenship in England.
The paper outlines the rationale for the Pathways project, which emerged from a common desire
across the three organisations to create a fuller picture of how people participate over their lives.
Participation is understood broadly to include a range of public, social and individual activities
(Brodie et al, 2009: 4-5) such as being a member of community group, volunteering at a local
hospice, responding to a consultation or boycotting a product. It builds on NCVO’s work on
active citizenship (Jochum et al, 2005), on IVR’s work on volunteering (Ockenden, 2007) and
Involve’s work on empowering citizens to take and influence the decisions that affect their lives
The paper draws on Cornwall’s theory of participation as ‘situated practice’ by examining
participation within the context of people’s lives, in the spaces and places in which participation
occurs, and how these contexts frame the possibilities of people’s participation (Cornwall 2002).
It proposes that life course theory helps us to understand how people’s earlier experiences are
important in understanding their participation later in life, and enrich our understanding of the
links between different types of participation by encompassing the interaction between
individual change and social change, or the micro (e.g. family time) and macro (e.g. historical
time) (Jamieson et al., 1998: 216).
The Pathways through Participation fieldwork comprised over 100 in-depth interviews with
participants (and several non-participants) and utilised a life history approach. This approach
privileges personal narratives over institutional or organisational narratives, has an interest in the
wholeness of people’s lives and the relationship between various aspects of people’s lives, and a
commitment to responsiveness and reflexivity in the research process (Merrill and West, 2009).
By looking across the range of different types of participatory activities and looking over time,
the research sheds light on the notion of ‘spill over’, whereby involvement in one type of
participation (such as volunteering) can lead to another (such as political activism). This idea can
be traced back at least to the 19th century, with Alexis de Tocqueville’s idea that voluntary
associations can teach members civic skills and values and act as schools for democracy
(Tocqueville, 2000). The paper debates the notion of participation as progression, whereby
people progressively take on more responsibility in their involvement over time (from, for
example, being in a backroom or support role to becoming a trustee). A typology of people’s
participation over time is presented to help explain the different ways in which people take part
over the course of their lives. The paper explains that cross-over between different activities
occurs but is not systematic, and highlights the importance of key contact points including
institutions, organisations and networks and issues such as caring for the local environment that
link people’s participation.
Understanding links and connections in people’s participation, both between activities and over
time, matters for both third sector organisations and policy-makers that wish to encourage
opportunities for participation. To encourage participation it is imperative to understand the
motivating and enabling factors that sustains people’s involvement over time. To conclude, the
paper suggests which factors organisations (both third sector and Government) may be able to
influence in order to encourage participation – a current preoccupation of the UK Government in
their ‘Big Society’ agenda.