The Ages of Voluntarism: How we got to the Big Society

Front Cover
Matthew Hilton, James McKay
OUP/British Academy, Aug 4, 2011 - History - 208 pages
In May 2010, Britain's new Coalition government embarked on its journey to the Big Society. But how did we reach this point? Politicians and commentators have long bemoaned the supposed decline of civic life, fretting about its health and its future. In fact, the real story of voluntarism over the last hundred years has not been decline, but constant evolution and change. Whether we use the terms charity, philanthropy, civil society, non-governmental organisations, the third sector or the Big Society, voluntary endeavour is one of the most vibrant and dynamic areas of British public life. The senior, established and exciting new scholars featured in this collection show how the voluntary sector's role in society, and its relationship with the state, has constantly adapted to its surroundings. They have raised new agendas, tackled old problems in new ways, acted as alternatives to statutory provision and as catalysts for further government action. Voluntary groups have emerged out of citizens' concerns, independent of government and yet willing to work with politicians of all persuasions. By surveying the sheer extent and diversity of the sector since the start of the First World War, this volume demonstrates that voluntarism not only continues to thrive, but is also far larger than any political agenda that may be imposed upon it.

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About the author (2011)


Matthew Hilton is Professor of Social History at the University of Birmingham. He is the author of over 50 books and articles including Smoking in British Popular Culture (Manchester, 2000), Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain (Cambridge, 2003), and Prosperity for All: Consumer Activism in an Era of Globalisation (Cornell, 2009).


James McKay is a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Birmingham. He is the editor, with Matthew Hilton and Nick Crowson of NGOs in Contemporary Britain: Non-state Actors in Society and Politics since 1945 (Palgrave, 2009). He is currently writing, with Hilton, The Politics of Expertise: How NGOs Shaped Modern Britain (Oxford).

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