Pecs - 1994
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Towards the Year 2000: ISTR Inaugural Conference

Janus Pannonius University
Pecs, Hungary
July 4-7, 1994



by Antonin Wagner. Dr. Wagner is Dean of the Zurich School of Social Work and Professor of Economics at the University of Zurich. He served as Academic Coordinator of the Inaugural Conference.

Reprinted from "Inside ISTR" Fall 1994, Volume 2/2.

In a little more than two years, the interim board of the International Society for Third-Sector Research, (ISTR) managed to organise an extremely successful Inaugural Conference of our new and flourishing society. This conference provided an important stimulus to the young but growing international community int he field of Third Sector research. Over 265 Third Sector scholars and practitioners representing 51 countries and all the continents of the world met from July 4 to July 7 at Janus Pannonius University in Pécs, Hungary. The Pannonius University has been a center for learning since it was founded in 1367. Its strong academic tradition in the field of human and social sciences was an important factor for ISTR in choosing Pécs as a venue for its inaugural conference. 

Going International

By holding the Inaugural Conference in Pécs, the fourth largest city in Hungary, ISTR wanted to demonstrate its international character and its support of Third Sector scholars and practitioners in Eastern Europe. ISTR is convinced that voluntary organizations much play an active role in supporting the political and economic changes which take place in this part of the world. A special registration subsidy program was designed by the interim board to bring a large group of researchers from Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, and Slovakia to the Pécs conference. Furthermore, the conference program featured a "East European Panel." This Plenary Seminar chaired by Gábor Hegyesi raised important questions of Third Sector research relevant for the host country of the conference as well as other Central and Eastern European countries. The event gave conference participants an excellent opportunity to benefit from the firsthand experience and expertise of panelists representing Hungary, Croatia, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Germany, United Kingdom, and U.S.A. 

In addition to focussing on key issues of Third Sector research related to Eastern Europe, going international for ISTR also meant encouraging the participation of a large number of researchers from developing countries. To enable maximum participation, funding was increased for a scholarship program for scholars and practitioners from the developing world. As a consequence of this measure, a total of 33 researchers from Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ghana, Kenya, Korea, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Uruguay attended the conference and contributed to advancing knowledge about the Third Sector internationally. 

Advocating a paradigm-shift in Third Sector research

This historic conference was an international event reflecting the many cultural backgrounds of Third Sector research. The historic dimension of the Pécs conference is further underscored by an important paradigm shift in Third Sector research which became apparent during this remarkable gathering of the leading scientists in the field. Third Sector research originated during the 1960s and 1970s in the United States and its "universe of observation" was constituted overwhelmingly by Third Sector organizations operating within the American society. Therefore, the explanations of individual and organizational behavior provided by Third Sector research were confined by the constraints of time, space and culture. In 1990 the "Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project" was launched by a group of international philanthropic leaders, in order to deepen the theoretical understanding of the nonprofit sector internationally. In the course of the project, the cultural limitations in the scope of Third Sector research became more and more apparent. At the Inaugural Conference, a Plenary Seminar "Mapping and Measuring the Nonprofit Sector Cross-Nationally"L addressed the different definitional and conceptual issues of a cross-country study. The panel chaired by Lester Salamon (Johns Hopkins Project Director) and complemented by an impressive round of international panelists gave important insights for conference participants interested in comparative Third Sector research. 

The stimulus which the Johns Hopkins Project provided to the internationalization of our field emphasizes that there is an important paradigm shift under way in Third Sector research. As the research community grows more and more international, research is turning away from the exclusive analysis of the "nonprofit economy," towards understanding the emerging civil society of "économie sociale." In a parallel shift, the focus of Third Sector research is shifting from explaining "philanthropy" or "volunteerism" to understanding the idea of "mutuality." In this context, "community" emerges as a new key concept of Third Sector research. This paradigm shift has been clearly documented by some of the most important events of the Pécs conference. 

"Community" as a key concept of Third Sector research

On the first evening of the conference, Amitai Etzioni dealt in his keynote with the paradigm shift. He pointed out to the audience that there are basically two ways of "doing social business." Volunteerism seems to be a typical American way of becoming socially involved by giving away time and money--altruistically caring for others, especially the poor. By contrast this altruistic approach of "philanthropy," the communitarian approach--as Etzioni explained-- stresses "mutuality," an ideal which demands that we do things together and for one another, instead of doing them for others., In this context, "community" becomes an important concept. It is through communities that people bong together and in the modern welfare state, community is becoming an important framework of meaning and purpose in the lives of more and more citizens. 

Etzioni insisted however that he does not oppose the welfare state in principle, but he believes that the welfare state has reached its limits, and to some extent has lost its political legitimacy. The signs of intense alienation exhibited by many citizens throughout the world suggest that there are masses of people disengaged from the democratic policies. Democracies do not fare well over the linger run if there is a high degree of disaffection. A less "etatist" (state- run) but more communitarian society might serve to re-engage the citizens as they participate in shared activities which they shape and control. 

In many respects Etzioni's keynote set the tone for the other events of the Inaugural Conference. Many of his ideas reappeared during a number of Paper Sessions. Paper Sessions were organized along four "tracts," according to the main conference themes: Civil Society, Government, Philanthropy, and Development. Papers allocated to Government and Philanthropy dealt with behavioral and organizational analysis of the more traditional nonprofit research typ. However, several papers delivered in Civil Society and Development addressed a wide variety of communitarian issues. A discussion of the "Campaign Against Hunger and Squalor" in Brazil and an analysis of a rural development approach practiced in Burkina Faso are two outstanding examples of papers focussing on the meaning of community. A special off-track event was dedicated to a group of papers considering the role of cooperatives, which constitute an important organizational form of the mutuality-paradigm. 

Establishing a scientific community of Third Sector Research The concept of community does not only indicated a paradigm shift in Third Sector research, but also points at a new understanding of what it means to be part of a growing number of scientists practicing Third Sector research. In this respect, "community" is not only a theoretical, but also a met-theoretical concept.  This became apparent during the closing plenary of the conference, entitled "Towards Third Sector Research: Developing a Scientific Paradigm" chaired by Antonin Wagner. The panel strongly advocated the view that a mutually interactive process among scientists is crucial to Third Sector research, if this newly emerging discipline ought to produce usable knowledge. Interaction works as an intellectual guidance system, offsetting biases and parochialism of individual researchers and promoting a collective rationality in handling the complex process of scientific choice. ISTR's purpose in holding biennial conferences is to promote cooperation among researchers as well as between researchers and other problem solvers. ISTR considers building an international community of researchers as its mission. Beyond the year 2000 Community-building measures require a sound and firm organizational infrastructure provided by the organization's Constitution and Bylaws. At the first General Meeting, which took place during the conference, a draft of Bylaws prepared by the interim board was amended and approved by the participating members. The Bylaws provide the necessary rules for conducting the first election in which ISTR members will choose their board. Based on the Bylaws approved in Pécs, the newly elected board will guide the ISTR research community not only toward, but beyond the year 2000. 

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