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

Mary Corcoran, Mike Maguire, Kate Williams

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMarketisation and Privatisation in Criminal Justice
EditorsKevin Albertson, Mary Corcoran, Jake Phillips
Place of PublicationBristol
PublisherThe Policy Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-4473-4618-0, 978-1-4473-4617-3
ISBN (Print)978-1-4473-4581-7, 978-1-4473-4570-1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020


  • Criminal Justice
  • privatisation
  • marketisation


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