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Constructive ambiguity, market imaginaries and the penal voluntary sector in England and Wales.




This chapter draws on the findings of a major research project on voluntary sector adaptation and resilience in the face of the mixed market in penal services that has emerged during a period of austerity and deep disruption to the social economy. Based on interviews with stakeholders, it is argued that senior personnel in the sector have developed both shared and divergent understandings (or ‘imaginaries’) of the ‘rules of engagement’ that pertain if they are to participate in this challenging and changing world of market competition. The chapter explores three broad strategic responses: (i) a greater tendency towards service diversification and commoditisation; (ii) mergers, acquisitions and seeking a place in larger consortia; (iii) varied dispositions towards market adaptive strategies. We codify the latter along the lines of Hirschman’s options of ‘exit, voice and loyalty’ (1970). However, it is shown that individual organisations often combine elements of all three dispositions, and that the overall picture of adaptation in the sector is greatly more complex and nuanced than some commentators have claimed.

Acceptance Date Jul 1, 2019
Online Publication Date Mar 10, 2021
Publication Date 2021-03
Publicly Available Date May 26, 2023
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Pages 187 - 202
Book Title Privatisation and Marketisation in Criminal Justice
Publisher URL