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A growing community: a sociological exploration of values and practices on a third sector mental health project

Blake, Joanne 2016. A growing community: a sociological exploration of values and practices on a third sector mental health project. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Since the 1990s UK governments have sought to harness third sector organisations in the delivery of services due to their perceived capacity to address social problems, and provide more responsive and individually-tailored services which can foster the capacity of individuals to lead more independent and fulfilled lives. However, these enhanced expectations exist alongside state retrenchment and mounting pressure to deliver services in more cost-effective ways. As grant-funding has been replaced by contracts, voluntary organisations have faced pressures to change their services in line with what commissioners want, compromising the distinctive values and practices that have traditionally been associated with the sector. Despite these empirical trends, there has been little in-depth sociological exploration of the effect of contracting on the values and practices of individual organisations, and how this is experienced by those who work, volunteer and use their services. This is surprising given that the ‘values-driven’ nature of these organisations is generally understood to be what makes them distinctive from the organisations of the state and the market. Instead, ‘values-driven’ is routinely conflated with ‘value-added’, in an instrumental view which treats values as transactional resources. Consequently, there has been a failure to grasp the intrinsic importance of values to people’s wellbeing, the rootedness of those values in practices, and the implications of changing people’s practices to achieve with greater efficiency an external product or outcome. This study adopted an Aristotelian lens to explore the relationship between values and practices on a third sector mental health garden project. The research used ethnographic participant observation and in-depth interviews to investigate how the practices of gardening and care embodied the values and aims of the organisation, and how those who worked, volunteered and used its services attached meaning to what they did. The research found that for project members’, being able to participate in practices in a way which was congruous with their values, was understood as an important facilitator of wellbeing. In keeping with the Aristotelian contention, participants perceived wellbeing as something which was realised through achieving those ‘internal goods’ which constituted excellence in their practices. Adapting practices to make them more effective at realising external outcomes not only threatened the very means through which these values were realised, but also undermined how project workers felt they could utilise their practices to facilitate wellbeing. The centrality of doing well to being well documented in this research suggests that if policy is to take wellbeing, and the role of the third sector in fostering this seriously, then values should be viewed as ends in themselves, and not merely as means to realise particular external outcomes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 10 April 2017
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2021 11:43

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