Small Voluntary Organisations in Britain's 'Big Society': A Bourdieusian Approach

Pauline Mcgovern, Pauline McGovern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article discusses some potentially harmful consequences of the Big Society agenda for small voluntary organisations, using a theoretical framework suggested by the later work of Pierre Bourdieu. I explore the way in which a voluntary self-help group for people with heart disease evolved, as a result of the pursuit of external funding. This paper focuses on the rapid rise of specific kinds of leaders-members with a professional background, relevant skills and an orientation to the group that enabled them to pursue funding opportunities and to gain increasing control despite the opposition of the long-standing volunteers and the founders of the group. I conclude that government policy to enhance the role of the voluntary sector in the delivery of welfare services may encourage certain kinds of leaders to become powerful in small voluntary organisations. This may adversely affect their organisational structure and lead members to feel dispossessed. © 2013 International Society for Third-Sector Research and The Johns Hopkins University.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)636-656
Number of pages20
JournalVoluntas: international journal of voluntary and non-profit organizations
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Capital
  • Funding
  • Habitus
  • Oligarchy
  • Self-help


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