Document Type


Publication Date



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Social Work


Much recent conceptual and theoretical effort to identify and define the kinds of voluntary action that take place outside households, economic markets and governments has a consistent emphasis on negation: It seems to define these matters by what they are not: not for profit, or nonprofit, nongovernmental, unproductive, inefficient, examples of contract failure, market failure, government failure and more. This paper is a beginning effort to shift the emphasis to the positive and the describe and explain what voluntary action is and what it consists of. It proposes the beginnings of an economics of common goods production, and differentiates such voluntary action in commons, based in donations and mutual efforts from the toll goods produced by quasi-commercial, revenue-generating nonprofit firms.

Source Citation

The original version of this paper was presented at the AVAS (Association of Voluntary Action Scholars) annual meeting. Kansas City, MO. October 14, 1987. A revised and edited version of that manuscript was published in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 18. 4. (Winter, 1989). 367-383. This version has been revised and expanded from the original conference presentation.



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