Reference Work Entry

International Encyclopedia of Civil Society

pp 40-47

Associations, Definitions and History

  • Annette ZimmerAffiliated withUniversity of HeidelbergWestfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster


According to Talcott Parsons modern societal communities foster the proliferation of three distinct forms of social organization: markets, bureaucracies, and associations. As such associations constitute a central feature of modernity. Today’s universe of associations in democratic societies differs widely form premodern associational life. There is a clear distinction between traditional involuntary associations such as kin groups, castes, or communities and modern voluntary associations. Historically, the shift from involuntary groupings to the modern association has been made possible by the evolution of the concept of freedom of association. The coming into being of the concept was closely linked to modernity in terms of both the development of modern statehood and societal differentiation. Today, the concept constitutes an integral part of the majority of the constitutions of modern democracies, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulatin ...

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