Author:Raisio, Harri


As a response to the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, a volunteer organization emerged to deliver supplies to ground zero workers (Voorhees, 2008). Rising to the challenges of hurricane Katrina in 2005, emergent citizen groups such as the Robin Hood Looters came to the aid of fellow citizens (Rodriguez, Trainor, & Quarantelli, 2006). During the 2011 Norway terror attacks, unaffiliated volunteers emerged to rescue the victims who were swimming from the island of Utoya (Gjerland et al., 2015). In the refugee crises of 2015, public authorities all over Europe were overwhelmed by the informal self-organized responses of citizens in providing support, such as shelter and provisions, for refugees (Lorenz, Schulze, & Voss, 2018). Occurrences such as those above are not exceptional, but are natural actions in various crisis situations (Twigg & Mosel, 2017).

In Finland, it has been suggested that such self-organizing emergent civic activity should be incorporated into the conception of the fourth sector (see Jalava et al., 2017). For example, the Advisory Board on Civil Society Policy (known as KANE), that operates in conjunction with the Finnish Ministry of Justice mentions the fourth sector in its action plans for 2017-2021, and considers it to encompass individual citizens, informal associations of citizens, loose social networks, and households (KANE, 2017). In the growing Finnish research literature on the topic, the fourth sector is seen as being occupied with temporary project-type activities that carry no obligation to become a member of an association and where participation is formed around changing themes of interest rather than organizations. In this expanding self-organizing civic activity, social networking services, such as Facebook and Twitter, play a key role (see Maenpaa & Faehnle, 2017; Faehnle et al., 2017).

This study has two distinct purposes. The first relates to the observation that the literatures on the fourth sector and on spontaneous volunteers and emergent citizens groups in safety and security functions share very similar characteristics. However, these two areas of literature have not previously been integrated in academic studies. Linking these two research areas could help integrate spontaneous volunteers and emergent citizens groups in safety and security functions into a separate fourth sector, making a clear distinction in relation to the traditional third sector, encompassing not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations. In addition, the fourth-sector literature that has focused more on cultural practices, urban planning, and sustainable development (e.g., Bose, Busch, & Sesic, 2006; Maenpaa & Faehnle, 2017) could be expanded to include activities promoting safety and security (for a discussion on the definitions of safety and security, see Boholm, Moller, & Hansson 2016).

The main purpose of this study is, however, to explore tensions between fourth-sector type activity and public- and third-sector organizations. Harris et al. (2017: 353) call this "the paradox of spontaneous volunteering" (involvement/exclusion paradox) defining it as "helpers wanting to be involved, juxtaposed with pressures for managers to exclude them." McLennan et al. (2017) raise the same issue in their risk-benefit framework for alternative strategic options for non-traditional emergency volunteers. Similarly, Strandh and Eklund (2018) state that further research opportunities exist on the question of whether public authorities, instead of striving to control spontaneous citizen volunteering, could learn to be flexible and feel safe in collaborating with the volunteers.

In this study, these tensions are analyzed in-depth through the perceptions of representatives of public- and third-sector organizations. The study is based on a 2017 research project The Role of the Third Sector in Supporting Public Authorities ' Security Functions funded under the Finnish Government's Analysis, Assessment and Research activities. The project gathered the perspectives of more than 200 respondents via interviews and small group discussions (in the guise of so-called security cafes). Although the project primarily addresses the role of the third sector, the data gathering activity spurred considerable debate on the growing role of the fourth sector and the resulting tensions, and it is that segment of the accumulated data this particular study focuses upon. The focus is then not so much on the fourth sector as a distinct phenomenon, but more on the perceptions of the public authorities and the NGO representatives of it. The two purposes of the study form the following research questions:

  1. How are fourth-sector type activity and the tensions related to it perceived by the representatives of public-and third-sector organizations?

  2. How does the concept of the fourth sector elucidate self-organizing and emergent civic activity in the domains of safety and security?

To accomplish the main objective of this study, it is important to first integrate the literature on self-organizing and emergent civic activity in safety and security into fourth sector literature. To this end, the article begins with (1) a review of the fourth sector literature, (2) implications for safety and security, and (3) a definition. Thereafter, (4) the article continues to establish how, theoretically, the fourth sector should be appraised--to inform further our analysis of perceptions of the fourth sector. Once this is established, (5) the study moves on to its main focus: tensions between traditional emergency responders and non-traditional emergency volunteers. After (6) presenting the methods, (7) the perceptions of Finnish public authorities and third-sector representatives on the fourth sector and related tensions are analyzed. Finally, (8) a discussion section binds these results to the theoretical framework of the article, and in (9) the conclusion section, further potential research questions are outlined.


Society can be divided structurally into four distinct sectors (Smith, Stebbins, & Dover, 2006). The first, the public sector, is traditionally seen as consisting of governmental services, whereas the second, or for-profit sector, consists of privately-run businesses. The third sector is considered the non-profit sector, and the fourth sector a sector containing families and households. In reality, however, the boundaries are not clear (Brandsen, van de Donk, & Putters, 2005). The definitions of sectors change constantly, particularly with regard to the third sector, which seems to embrace an increasing number of actors and activities (see Corry, 2010; Salamon & Sokolowski, 2016). Given the growth of the literature on the fourth sector, and to avoid the third sector becoming "a residual category" (Corry, 2010: 11) where all the actors that do not sit comfortably in the public or private sector groups are lumped together, it is worth looking more closely at the content of the fourth sector. Can it offer a theoretical home base for self-organizing and emergent civic activity, so that the fourth sector is not merely subsumed into the third sector?

Strands in the fourth-sector literature

Although the literature on the fourth sector is expanding, there is as yet no shared understanding of its definition. Harju (2003) suggests the activities of the fourth sector are often based on family, kinship, neighborhood, and acquaintanceship relations. Traditional fourth-sector activity would therefore include friends or neighbors helping one another. Harju (2003) also clarifies that the third sector is a concept that is widely-understood and utilized in Finland, and that it can be distinguished from the fourth sector by the presence of organized actors such as associations and foundations. Similarly, Williams (2002; 2008) notes that whereas third-sector volunteering is channeled through formal groups or organizations, fourth-sector volunteering consists of informal micro-level one-to-one aid. Such informal and spontaneous one-to-one volunteering can then be considered the first strand of the fourth-sector literature.

The second strand in the literature relates to the blurring of the boundaries of different sectors, that is, the fourth sector is seen as an evolving hybrid of public-, private-, and non-profit sectors (Sinuany-Stern & Sherman, 2014). Sabeti (2009) identifies two primary attributes: a social purpose and a business method (see also Alessandrini, 2010). Social purpose refers to an organization having "a core commitment to social purpose embedded in its organizational structure," and a business method refers to the organization conducting "any lawful business activity that is consistent with its social purpose and stakeholder responsibilities" (Sabeti, 2009: 5). Examples of such organizations include sustainable enterprises, social enterprises, and blended value organizations.

In a third strand of the fourth-sector literature, Maenpaa and Faehnle (2017) associate the concept of the fourth sector with urban civic activism and specified the fourth sector as "the area of civil society that, with its quick, lightly-organised, proactive and activity-centred nature, is structured outside of the third sector, or the field of non-governmental organisations" (Maenpaa & Faehnle, 2017: 78; see also Rantanen & Faehnle, 2017; Faehnle et al. 2017). The definition highlights a do-it-yourself spirit, a yes-in-my-backyard attitude, and the heavy utilization of the Internet and social media. Examples are local movements, peer-to-peer trade and services, social peer support, and hacktivism. To agile fourth-sector actors, third-sector organizations may appear slow, rigid, and old-fashioned (Maenpaa, Faehnle, & Schulman, 2017). Bose, Busch, and Sesic (2006) share similar views in writing about the fourth sector in the context of the cultural...

To continue reading