A postmodern saint? - on motives for voluntarism

University dissertation from Ulla Habermann, Kochsvej 19. 1812 Frederiksberg C. Denmark

Abstract: The theme of this thesis is motives for voluntarism - with particular focus on volunteering in social work compared to voluntary work in sports clubs and patient associations. It is based on a combination of different data sources and methodological approaches: surveys, analyses of letters from volunteers and literature studies. Theoretically the thesis is based on two sets of sociological theories. One compares the communitarian and the liberal concepts of civil society based on John Rawls and Alasdaiar MacIntyre. The discourse about voluntarism includes a mixture of liberalistic (free choice) and communitarian (common good) ways of thinking. The other presents theories on integration and democracy in order to shed light on voluntarism’s potential as a bridge-builder between the individual and society. The surveys show great differences in gender and age distribution among volunteers in the different organisation. Typical volunteers in sport are younger men whereas volunteers in social work are elderly women. But the motives of the volunteers are surprisingly uniform for men and women, young and old. The motives are mixed, volunteers have several motives for volunteering and motives depend on organisational context. There is a clear hierarchy of motives: Values, learning, identity and comradeship receive a lot of mentions, while influence, social expectations and career motives are low priorities among the volunteers. There are four approaches to the interpretation of voluntarism. 1. The narratives that enshroud volunteering, 2.Normative values which no doubt to a great extend constitute the volunteers’ image of his or hers motives for volunteering. 3.The notion of female care that is conspicuous in voluntary social work. The question is whether it will be possible to offer women a real choice in the future: between caring and not caring. 4. An identity of being an active, committed person belongs to volunteering. And voluntary work can also be seen as a sign of integration (or exclusion). Finally the sustainability of voluntarism is visioned, and the question of autonomy is raised. This issue must differentiate between volunteers and organisations. The optimistic message is that volunteering as such certainly will continue to create meaning and identity to people. There is far more doubt about the organisational context in which such commitment can and will survive.

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