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Reconceptualizing the Third Sector: Towards a New Consensus

Thu, June 30, 11:00am to 12:30pm, Campus Ersta, Living Room

Session Submission Type: Roundtable Discussion


The field of nonprofit sector studies has recently continued to expand and change in response to new innovations and changed thinking. Social enterprises, social cooperatives, social economy, social movements, civil society have all surfaced as alternative conceptualizations.

Sadly, a clear conceptualization has not evolved at a pace sufficient to take adequate account of these new developments or with sufficient clarity to identify the commonalities underlying the new entrants. As a result, the field is in danger of splintering into warring factions defending different portions of the terrain, with some focusing exclusively on traditional nonprofit institutions and others embracing one or another of the alternative institutional and individual manifestations.

Fortunately, however, a group of scholars working under the umbrella of the European Union’s Third Sector Impact Project (TSI; see: has fashioned a consensus conceptualization of the Third Sector that goes well beyond the widely recognized definition of nonprofit institutions included in the UN Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions in the System of National Accounts by embracing as well some, but not all, cooperatives, mutuals, social enterprises, and individual behaviors, and does so in a way that meets demanding criteria of comparability, operationalizability, and potential for integration into official statistical systems.

The purpose of the proposed Roundtable is to provide ISTR members an opportunity to review this emerging consensus definition and to consider its suitability as a foundation for data gathering and third sector research in regions around the world. The principal focal point for this session will be the Working Paper from the TSI project entitled “The Third Sector in Europe: Toward a Consensus Conceptualization” by Lester M. Salamon and S. Wojciech Sokolowski (TSI Working Paper Series No. 2. Seventh Framework Programme (grant agreement 613034), European Union. Brussels: Third Sector Impact, 2014. Available at:

In addition to Dr. Salamon, the Roundtable will feature comments by Dr. Jacques Defourny of the University of Leige in Belgium, Dr. Naoto Yamauchi of Osaka University in Japan, Dr. Lucas Meijs of Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Dr. Kirsten Grønbjerg of Indiana University. Each participant will discuss the application of the proposed conceptualization in his or her respective region.

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