In this article, I apply the contributions of Luhmannian systems theory to the analysis of the third sector, accepting, in realistic terms, the diagnosis of current societies as increasingly complex and the descriptions of third sector as hybrid. After identifying some of the main analytical elements and concepts, I propose applying it in two ways. First, with the illustration of organizations’ self-descriptions, I show how third sector organizations may be analyzed in light of the concepts of self-reference, reflexivity, and reflection to evidence both their operational closure and their structural couplings with other systems. Second, I refer to the self-descriptions of “sector” in terms of its self-reflection and semantics as different from other sectors and show that it is a paradoxical heterogeneous unity. I conclude by arguing for the usefulness of this analytical framework to understand contextually the meaning of the third sector in functionally differentiated societies.
Ferreira, Sílvia (2014), “Sociological Observations of the Third Sector through Systems Theory: An Analytical Proposal”, Voluntas, 25, 6, 1671–1693.