The emerging fourth sector & Trade union organizing and changing civic activism in the early 2000s

Understanding the Emerging Fourth Sector and Its Governance Implications

A literature review by Mikko Rask

Abstract: The fourth sector has traditionally been said to include families, households, neighbours, and friends; however, recently competing definitions have begun to emerge. Three different strands can be observed in the fourth-sector literature. The first strand centres on the notion of one-to-one aid. The second strand of the fourth-sector literature centres on self-organizing civic activism. The third strand focuses on hybrid organizations. The main purpose of this paper is to devise a ‘working model’ of fourth-sector involvement. The model will include a) a definition of the fourth sector that will acknowledge the different academic traditions involved with the fourth-sector phenomenon, b) an interpretation of the main characteristics and driving forces of the phenomenon, and c) identification of the main governance issues and challenges emerging around fourth-sector involvement. Using a general activity theoretical framework as a heuristic tool focusing attention on the actors, tools, objectives, and outcomes of any form of activity, four criteria for the definition of the fourth sector are proposed.

MR_Fourth Sector


Trade union organizing and changing civic activism in the early 2000s

Anna Malinen will present the research plan of the PhD dissertation

Abstract: The latest decades have seen the emergence of individual and collective forms of action that do not easily conform to top-down approaches or the current, established idea of the third sector – if defined as an organization-dominated sphere (as is the case in Finland). There is a growing literature on the theme of a fourth sector, which has also been defined as actors and activities “outside of organizations”.

These developments pose a real challenge to traditional organizations, among them trade unions. In the upcoming research project, the main idea is to apply the evolving concept of the fourth sector to a Finnish trade union context. The project is taken up against a background of falling trade union membership levels in Finland as well as internationally. There is a need to examine to what extent trade unions of today are perceived as relevant actors for channeling people’s concerns, and what kind of  changes might be needed in the relation between unions and their (potential) membership.

The more specific focus will be on current trade union efforts to renew the ways in which members are recruited and invited to participate at local and workplace levels. The employment of this so-called organizing model has been spreading in Finnish trade unions during the last decade. Its aim is to create a “snowflake” structure of trade union activism networks.

The research will be set within the subject of Political history. An historical perspective will be useful, as trade unions have a well-established position in Finnish society. From a third/fourth sector perspective, they can be characterized as both rooted in a very traditional form of social movement and “bureaucracy-heavy” organizations (and, as such firmly located within the scope of the third sector). The current forms of organizing are also perceived as both revolutionizing and a “return-to-basics” way of conducting trade union work, a divide which further necessitates a historical understanding.

Of particular interest are the meanings that trade union organizers and decision makers on the one hand, and union members on the other hand, give to the organizing efforts of their unions. To achieve a fourth sector/organizing comparison, attention will be given to the types of actor and action that emerge from fourth sector theory vs. experiences and accounts concerning organizing efforts.

AM 28.2.2020_Politics of co-creation


Time: Friday, 28.2.2020 at 13:15-14:45, Metsätalo (Unioninkatu 40) Sali 29


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