What has distinguished the concept of partnerships since the middle-1990s has been that partnerhips are articulated as a form of cross-sectoral cooperation. Today’s partnerships not only cut across company boundaries or lines of business, but they also cross back and forth between the public, private, and voluntary sectors, and across policy areas such as, for example, public assistance and public-hygiene issues. Analysis showed how a multiplicity of expectations became condensed into the concept of partnership. These included expectations about the partnership as an alternative to outsourcing; an alternative to sectoral break-ups; an alternative to state, market, and civil society respectively; and also as a mediator. In this enormous condensation of expectations into the partnership concept, a contract is defined as the counterconcept that kept the many expectations in place. It was shown how outsourcing creates the potential for conflicts without establishing a preparedness or a framework for handling the conflicts. Consequently, a proposal is developed for a communication and systems theory about contracts. It was argued that contracts could be seen as a specific form of communication that constitutes the unity of obligation and freedom. Finally, it was shown how partnerships as second-order contracts fold the difference between contract and organisation in such a way that the contract obtains self-organising elements.
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