From Awkwardness to Action Christian Voluntarism in Denmark Beyond the Sector Model of Civil Society

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    The article challenges the theoretical “sectoral model” of civil society through a historical case study and offers an alternative actor-centered approach inspired by American pragmatism. First, three separate strands of research are identified that each conceptualize civil society as a sector with institutional independence, a single normative logic, and fixed roles. Building on archival material on the Danish temperance organization the Blue Cross, the article then compares the theory to the empirical case. It is argued that the CSO exposes three types of “awkwardness” in the sector model, as the Blue Cross (1) de-differentiated and became part of the public system of treatment for alcoholism, (2) applied multiple logics depending on the audience it addressed, and (3) acted in the role of “interpreter” rather than “antenna”—and specifically interpreted the needs of alcoholics in mutual understanding with state authorities. Finally, an alternative approach to the study of CSOs is proposed: a historically sensitive approach that differently from an ahistorical model analyzes collective actors historically, affirmatively, and situationally through their application of contentious and non-contentious repertoires of civic action.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalInternational Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)191-215
    Number of pages25
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Published online: 12 October 2020.


    • Civil society
    • Voluntarism
    • Collective action
    • Temperance movement
    • American pragmatism

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