This interdisciplinary project compares the regulatory frameworks governing membership-based, voluntary organizations (VOs) in long-lived democracies and assesses how these frameworks affect VOs’ operations. It studies interest groups, parties and welfare-providers as three VO types interacting with the state at different stages of the political process. State control over organized civil society is at odds with pluralist values and supposed to weaken VOs’ linkages to citizens. Simultaneously, specialist literatures in political science and sociology point to ‘their’ VOs’ entanglement with the state, while comparative legal and public policy scholars note that governments, in recent reforms, increased their control over which VOs receive funds and how funds can be used. In times of austerity, welfare state retrenchment and declining trust in elected institutions the regulatory frameworks governing VOs are changing, deeply affecting organizational life in a democracy. Only an up-to-date overview of current frameworks allows us to examine whether close state-voluntary relations compromise VO autonomy and reduce VOs’ beneficial effects for democracy. This project tackles these important issues through two modules integrated through a mixed methods design. Module 1 develops an analytical framework to compare the regulation of VOs cross-nationally and applies it to 19 long-lived democracies. Based on this mapping, it specifies and theorizes distinct normative conceptions of state-voluntary relations underpinning democracies. Offering a new approach to VO development, Module 2 studies qualitatively (through in-depth interviews and document analysis) how individual VOs adapt to ‘most different’ regimes - each regime representative of one state-voluntary conception identified in Module 1-, while testing quantitatively (through event history analysis) how far the features that VOs acquire in this process affect their likelihood to survive under varying regulatory conditions.
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