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What Makes Third Sector Organizations a Species of its Own?

Wed, July 11, 9:00 to 10:30am, Room, 2A 24


In our paper, we ask whether contemporary hybrid third sector organizations (TSOs) still have some distinctive features that distinguish them from public and market organizations. By comparing the empirical results of two separate research projects in relatively different organizational fields - cultural festivals and youth work - we explore the sources of legitimacy and other components of various institutional logics among Finnish TSOs.

The public, market and third sectors are often regarded as relatively separate entities of society with their own logics and roles. During the last decades, the boundaries between these three sectors have been blurred and organizations become hybrids (e.g. Billis 2010). Also TSOs have taken on approaches and methods from the private and public sectors and become more commercialized, professionalized and managerially managed, for example (Meyer et al. 2013; Wijkström 2011). This is
sometimes seen as a risk to their distinctiveness as actors of Civil Society (eg. Eikenberry & Kluver 2004).

Theoretically, the foundations of our paper are built on institutional theory and, more precisely, the institutional logics perspective (Thornton et al. 2012; Thornton & Ocasio 2008). According to this perspective, organizations and organizational fields are characterized by multiple, often conflicting, normative orders and diverse claims from different stakeholders (Greenwood et al. 2010). The plurality of institutional logics can result in various combinations of hybrid forms in organizations (Skelcher & Smith 2015).

In the analysis, we draw from the model developed by Thornton et al. (2012) where they suggest seven ideal type societal level institutional orders: community, market, corporation, state, profession, religion and family. Each institutional order is composed of elemental categories, including the sources of legitimacy, which represent the cultural symbols and material practices particular to that order. Empirically we base our findings on a multi-methodological analysis of documents, interviews and survey data collected in festival organizations and nationwide youth TSOs in Finland.

The main argument of our paper is that despite sectoral blurring and plural institutional demands, distinctive third sector characters still play a significant role in how Finnish TSOs display their tasks and operations. TSOs have many hybrid features and manifest various combinations of institutional logics in their search of legitimacy. Based on our empirical findings, we claim that these combinations reflect an institutional logic typical of the third sector. These results contribute to a better understanding about the distinctive features of the third sector in Finnish TSOs and more generally.