The Logic of Membership of Sectoral Business Associations

Article excerpt

Abstract This paper assesses the logic of membership of sectoral business associations in Britain using evidence from a proportionate stratified random sample of associations. The British system gives no statuatory status to business associations. As a result the size and fragmentation of associations is similar to the US, membership of associations is interpreted in terms of the logic of specific business service demand and the logic of collective activities. Expectations from models of collective action, associability and involvement are used to interpret association membership. The paper argues that the normal distinction between associations as trade, professional or "peak" bodies is too simplistic in not properly differentiating the types of member. The paper employs instead a set of six categories dependent on the type of members: companies, owner-managers, the self-employed, and individuals, as well as bodies with mixed membership, and federations (which are associations of associations). Survey eviden ce demonstrates that member motives for joining, lapsing and constraining service development differ significantly between association types and tend most strongly to emphasise the logic of individual services as complements to the logic collective activity. Analysis of the rates of joining and lapsing membership show evidence of reluctance to join and high rates of lapsing.

Keywords: Collective services, business services, business representation, competitiveness, business associations

INTRODUCTION

Although sectoral business associations have been the subject of a considerable literature, interpretations of associability reflected in business motives to join, remain or lapse as members and the influence this has on an association have not been very fully addressed. In many ways this is surprising since, especially in a voluntary system, business member's motivation and their interpretation of associability underpins their logic of membership, which must be a key determinant of association success or failure. On that success and failure depend the ability of associations to contribute important self-regulating mechanisms that can improve the standards, competitiveness and dynamics of individual business sectors. This paper seeks to fill the gap in knowledge of member motivation by pooling information from a structured survey of associations. The paper first assesses the literature that has addressed the question of membership of associations, focusing attention on the two key aspects of the logic of serv ices and the logic of collective influence. This discussion focuses on motives for collective activities that relate to association development and the forces of exit, voice, loyalty, involvement and associability that can influence members. The discussion leads to a series of hypotheses which are assessed in the main body of the paper. The paper is written in the context of voluntary associations such as those in the US or Britain.

THE LOGIC OF MEMBERSHIP

Membership of voluntary business associations is a choice by firms or individuals. This is the key strength of business associations in a country like the US or Britain: associations exist because businesses want them to exist and are willing to support them financially and in other ways. In analysing the choices of membership a distinction can be drawn between the logic of services and the logic collective activity, such as representational influence (see e.g. Streeck and Schmitter 1985; Aldrich et al. 1990). The logic of services means that associations have to respond to member's individual and specific needs and demands. Such demand is individualised so that a greater proportion of income can be raised from specific fees for services. In many ways this can lead an association to resemble a business service company.

In contrast the logic of collective activity focuses the role of an association to act on behalf of all, or at least the majority, or its members' interests. …