State, Subject, Space

Silences in Institutionalist Theories of Nonprofit-Government Relations
  • Jennifer Wolch
Part of the Nonprofit and Civil Society Studies book series (NCSS)


The complex webs of linkage between voluntary organizations and government belie the myth of voluntary sector independence. Detailing numerous examples, Rathgeb-Smith (2001) for instance, simultaneously reveals the reactive nature of much nonprofit behavior in the face of shifting US public policy. These examples also serve as a useful critique of three classes of theory which dominate US discourse on nonprofit—government relations: economic theories, voluntary sector failure explanations, and mediating structures approaches. Such theoretical lenses distort as much as (or more than) they serve to clarify the structure of relationships between the two sectors. What might be termed “institutionalist” theory, in contrast, has been forwarded as an alternative theoretical lens. (For variants on this institutionalist approach, see Kramer, 1981; Rathgeb-Smith & Lipsky, 1993; Salamon, 1995; Wolch, 1990.) Institutionalist theory rejects the voluntary independence implied by the three conventional explanations, instead characterizing voluntary groups as resulting from the structure, norms, and practices of existing institutions; incentives provided by such institutions for the establishment and operation of nonprofit organizations; and community-specific histories and geographies.


Social Movement Institutionalist Theory Nonprofit Sector Identity Politics Voluntary Sector 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer Wolch
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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