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voluntary organizationany organization (political parties, recreational clubs, etc.) where membership is optional and not a standard requirement of membership of a particular society. As Pickvance (1986) states, there is general agreement that voluntary associations are not institutions in the sense of social structures devised to organize action in the main areas of social life, such as firms, schools, governments’. Pickvance also identifies four further usual criteria in both common-sense and sociological definitions of voluntary associations:
- non-commercial orientation;
- they are public organizations in the sense that, formally at least, access is open to all;
- they are formally constituted organizations, often with an elected administration;
- they are nonstatutory, not established by law.
In the USA especially, voluntary associations have been widely identified as playing an indispensable role in the maintenance of STABLE DEMOCRACY, as fostering a participatory POLITICAL CULTURE and providing a training ground for political leaders. See also INTERMEDIATE (OR SECONDARY) GROUPS.
A renewed emphasis is being placed on voluntary and ‘third sector’ activity -including new partnerships with the state -in the less state-centred politics of the THIRD WAY. see also CIVIC ENTREPRENEUR.