The role of the voluntary sector | Dr Eddy Hogg | Think Kent

hi I'm dr. Eddie hog and I'm a lecturer

in the center for philanthropy at the

University of Kent and my research tends

to look at volunteering and the

voluntary sector and the ways in which

people make decisions to give their time

or their money and to be part of

organizations now this is a really

interesting area of study because every

day we engage and interact with

voluntary organisations and community

organisations most of us give to charity

quite regularly either in a formal way

or a more informal way and large number

of us volunteer again quite formally or

quite informally and all of us have at

some point benefited from the services

and the support that voluntary

organisations offer to us so it's a

really interesting area to study and

it's an area that social thinkers over

the last two centuries have given a lot

of thought to and what I want to do in

this talk is look at four of those key

social thinkers and to look at how they

have seen the voluntary sector how

they've conceptualized it and try to

understand it from a social thought

point of view first I want to speak

about is Alexis de Tocqueville that a

Tocqueville was a French aristocrat at

the start of the nineteenth century

the start of the nineteenth century was

not a particularly good time to be a

French aristocrat things were going on

in France that were not particularly

friendly towards the aristocrats if

you've seen Lamy zurab you'll understand

what I mean and he wanted to understand

how society could be democratic but

stable and function under those

conditions and to try and understand

that he went to the United States

initially to study the prison system

there but what he was struck by when he

saw through his experiences in the

United States their burgeoning society

their growing civil society was that

there was an increasing number of

organizations that sat between the level

of the state and of the individual a

civil society of voluntary organisations

that had arisen through grassroots

efforts of individuals and groups of

individuals and through that and from

that experience he wrote his seminal

book democracy in America and in that he

says that these organizations these

voluntary organizations as we know them

today are essential for the growth of

democracy in the creation of wealth

because they enable stability within a

society if you'll excuse me turning to

pop culture to explore this in the

walking dead we see zombies legions and

legions of zombies now zombies they are

together in body but apart in mind they

have no way of clubbing together to meet

their ends and therefore looking after

defeating them managing them becomes

very hard as we see from Andrew

Lincoln's characters issues in

suppressing them in the walking dead and

this is what Tocqueville saw citizens as

being like without the voluntary

organizations without this intermediate

level where they could come together to

meet their needs and their wants now

writing shortly after this Emile

Durkheim came to a fairly similar

position he saw that as individuals we

had no way of connecting our wishes our

desires with the way of achieving them

and he saw called this anomie the idea

that we were all individuals that we

weren't connected and he said this was a

veritable sociological monstrosity that

could pose a real risk to democracy and

its functioning and he says that

intermediate organizations again like

Tocqueville that sat between the state

and the individual were really important

in avoiding that maybe the best example

of this is in canoes the stranger where

start of the book we find my so feeling

alone feeling as though he has no place

in the world he's an individual with no

connections and Durkheim says that

without these intermediate organizations

without these social links

formalized through voluntary sector and

volunteer organizations we could all be

like that and he saw it in serious terms

that he felt like Camus that real

violence could erupt on the streets if

citizens didn't feel they had this way

of coming together to achieve what they

thought were the social ends they needed

the third think I want to talk about is

Max Weber now Weber came from a

different point of view rather than

concern about citizens being

disconnected from each other

he had concern about the government

exerting its power through bureaucracy

through it limiting what its citizens

are able to achieve by imposing such

bureaucratic practices that no

individual citizen could ever hope to

understand them all and he called this

bureaucratic violence the idea that the

state can be violent in a very quiet

very methodical way to its citizens he

saw a way of coping with this

bureaucratic violence he said that the

way that citizens can cope with it is

through intermediary organizations like

what we have today the Citizens Advice

bureaux because these organizations

could have all that knowledge and can

act as an intermediary helping

individuals to cope with what the state

is imposing upon them so if you went to

a Citizens Advice bureaux today they

will be able to give you help on welfare

benefits your rent at home or on the

tenancy agreement that you've signed

into they could give you help if you

lost your job if you were going for


all of these are bureaucratic processes

that no individual citizen could

possibly understand all of them and

these organizations help with that

there's a danger here though in the last

20 years in the UK the voluntary sector

or at least bits of it have become

increasingly formalized and have

increasingly got into bed with state

actors have taken state money for

contracts and operate as part of an

almost shadow state

now for what Weber saw as being unique

and essential about the voluntary sector

as being this intermediary between the

government of the individual that risks

being lost

if voluntary organizations begin to look

and act like the state if you go to a

voluntary organization and it has such

impenetrable bureaucracy that's a real

problem because you can't begin to

understand what it's doing

just like Weber saw the state it becomes

very hard to access services services

that might be essential to your

well-being so there's a risk that we

must guard against and we must keep

Weber in mind when we do so against it

over bureaucratize ation of the

voluntary sector of too much of a focus

on targets and of streamlining services

that is not to say that that's what all

voluntary organisations do many don't

have state contracts they continue to

work in an independent way but we must

be wary of those that begin to look and

act like the state now the final social

thinker I'm going to talk about is one

known to nearly all of us Karl Marx Marx

didn't write much about the voluntary

sector really because Marx was mostly

concerned with how the workers could

overthrow capitalism and create a

communist society that was fairer and

more even for the poorest people but we

know from looking at what he did right

that he wouldn't have had a particularly

positive view of the voluntary sector

firstly he would argue where does the

money come from

and he would say that for a lot of

voluntary sector organisations their

funding comes from wealthy individuals

individuals who already hold power in

society who already hold influence and

through giving money to voluntary

organisations take that influence

further further implement that influence

on more and more areas of society Marx

would say that a voluntary organisation

funded only by the wealthiest in society

but helping the poorest

we'll be providing services as they

would be designed by the wealthiest

we'll be providing services that kept

the wealthiest in their position of

power of influence because turkeys don't

vote for Christmas rich people don't

give to organizations who are going to

try to overthrow their position this

Marxist position also has concerns about

the way that voluntary organizations

fragment the potential for change in

society by encouraging individuals to

follow their own interests their own

niche interest to look after themselves

and what they want to do so whereas for

Marx this is the sort of March that we

should be going on this is the kind of

civil society that's needed to overthrow

capitalism in fact what we find is more

often marches and events like this for

more niche interests such as the

Countryside Alliance an organization and

movement that's thought to protect the

interest of those in the countryside and

this fragments those who could overthrow

this capitalist system that Marx saw as

being so dangerous to society and other

niche interests to the gay pride

movement something we'd all see as


but nonetheless under a Marxist critique

this is deflecting attention from the

real issue which is the overthrow of

capitalism the move to a fairer society

even something we saw in Canterbury not

long ago a naked cycle right to raise

awareness of the risks that cyclists

take the strap line you see me now but

again this is a niche interest this is

the interest of cyclists some of those

cyclists may also have an interesting

overthrowing capitalism while making

capitalism better for poorer people but

by fragmenting voluntary organizations

by saying I believe in this you believe

in that that becomes a problem for a

Marxist critique of society now this

type of organization funded by better

off people working for niche interests

working for often quite progressive but


is one that actually successive

governments in the UK would support this

is very much the type of civil society

that our politicians want indeed they

even don't want them to lobby at all

even for niche interests our departed

Minister for civil society Brooks

Newmark said that charity should stick

to knitting and stay out of the realm of

politics and lobbying altogether that

that would mean organizations like

Amnesty International or the Howard

league for penal reform would have to

stop their work trying to better the

lives of people so actually this Marx's

critique has some truth has some

relevance when we look at what's going

on in society today we have ministers

who would rather that actually voluntary

organisations look rather more like Marx

caricatures them following niche

interests providing help but not trying

to investigate why that help is needed

so from Marx and from all of these

social thinkers we've looked at we can

see that the voluntary sector is

essential to democracy but that we

should be wary of it having too much

power and we should be wary of where the

power lies within it at their very best

voluntary organisations can unite people

can enable people to fight the

bureaucratic violence of the state and

pursue their niche interests to lobby

government in favour of them at its

worst it protects vested interests it

looks after the needs of those who could

afford to have their needs looked after

so we have to be wary and we can use

social theory from 200 years ago or more

to influence and examine the sector as

we see it today thank you very much for

watching this video