Continuity and change in the Birmingham voluntary action field 1965 – 2010

Munro, Eleanor Margaret ORCID: 0000-0003-3994-7763 (2022). Continuity and change in the Birmingham voluntary action field 1965 – 2010. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

Text - Accepted Version
Available under License All rights reserved.

Download (2MB) | Preview


Conceptualising the voluntary sector as a strategic action field, this study focuses on the values, identities, resources and relationships that bind together local voluntary organisations in the City of Birmingham, and how these change over time. There is an extensive body of literature examining voluntary action, historically and conceptually, that looks from either a national field-wide perspective, or from that of single organisations. There is less that considers the local field of voluntary action. This study draws focus to change and continuity in the voluntary action field at a local level, in an urban setting, across the late 20th and early 21st century. Using theoretically-informed historical sources and methods, it brings together two disciplines in a way that allows for a focus on detail and historical contingency, through a lens of broader meaning-making processes and activities. The source material, taken from the archives of philanthropic funder the Barrow Cadbury Trust, demonstrates the opportunities for understanding communities and voluntary action through charity archives, including the experiences of Black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities and movements.

The study will address three themes that follow a narrative from theoretical issues of how the identity of the local voluntary action field is constructed, what the field values, and finally how we can see these issues play out in the field’s engagement with practical policy initiatives. It looks first at concepts of identity within the Birmingham voluntary action field, and evident within the BCT archives. It explores how the values of the field are laid claimed to and, to different degrees, enacted by field actors. This introduces issues to do with legitimacy and its sources for organisations in the Birmingham voluntary action field. In particular it explores these issues for Black-, South Asian- and other minority ethnic-led organisations. Finally the study will explore these concepts in the policy context of the Inner City Partnership Programme, a government funding programme that provided grants for voluntary organisations and others from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. It will consider the experience of organisations within the Birmingham voluntary action field of navigating this government programme, from trying to influence the programme at its inception, to identifying related support needs to help organisations take part, to the series of cuts that left a number of organisations in a precarious position.

Reflecting on the findings of this inter-disciplinary study, the thesis argues that organisations exist across multiple fields at once, and so face decisions about what sources and forms of legitimacy to pursue, according to which field they most wish to improve their position in and which forms of legitimacy are of most symbolic value within that field. This might mean choosing between pursuing strategies of pragmatic legitimation through adopting ‘professional’ structures and approaches, and engaging in voluntary action fora and partnerships, versus maintaining close ties to community, prioritising Black ownership and independence, and protecting an independent, critical voice. Additionally, while the values attached to the voluntary action field endured, their meaning and their consequences were not static. Historical study of material relating to voluntary action can help us interrogate these seemingly shared values in historical and ideological context.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: School of Social Policy, Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)


Request a Correction Request a Correction
View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year