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The embarrased organization

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Over the past few years, there has been a growing interest in the voluntary organisations that play an important and innovative part in the development of the welfare societies in America (se Salamon 1995;1997; Alexander, Nank and Stivers C. 1999; Reisch and Sommerfeld 2003), England (se Plowden 2003) and Scandinavian (se... .) . The states, in particular, has realised that a number of welfare tasks cannot be solved without establishing a close working relationship with the existing voluntary social sector. The added political interest has led to greater awareness of the structuralisation of voluntary organisations and their supply of services. At the same time, we know very little today about the practical functions of volunteers – what is it they do and know, and how may this possibly differ from what others do and know. We are also in need of studies to highlight the relationship between the practices of volunteers and the voluntary organisations which initially facilitated the development of such practices. The need for such information is growing in step with the ever-increasing demands placed on the practices of volunteers by society in general and politicians in particular. Using Niklas Luhmann’s theory of social systems as a springboard, this article will look at the state’s expectations for new and more integrated forms of cooperation with the voluntary organisations. These expectations are interesting precisely because the bodies that are seeking to cooperate have very different ways of organising the provision of social services. Using a specially selected area of user-cantered voluntary social services, the article will examine the unique aspects of voluntary work, as well as the unique way in which the voluntary organisations organise and manage this work. The article will argue that the voluntary work represent a interaction system, and that the organisation which instigates the voluntary social work neither has access to it, nor control over it. The article will therefore show that there is another, far more controversial side to voluntary social services than the state’s attempts to formulate a joint voluntary service policy. Voluntary organisations risk becoming embaressed. On the basis of this argument, the article will pinpoint a number of risks associated with the attempt to formalise cooperation between public and voluntary social services. What are the risks for the people towards whom these services are directed? What are the risks for the voluntary organisations? And what are the risks for the social policies of the welfare state, based as they are on the principle of universalism?

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Anders la Cour

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