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Sociology of volunteering: defining the boundaries of research

Andrei V. Nevskii , junior researcher, , Sociological Institute of FCTAS RAS, Saint-Petersburg, Russia
mailto: anevskij@gmail.com
Sociology of volunteering: defining the boundaries of research.
Vestnik instituta sotziologii. 2020. Vol. 11. No. 1. P. 32-48

DOI: 10.19181/vis.2020.11.1.624

Дата поступления статьи: 02.02.2020
This Article is downloaded: 204 times
Topic: Volunteers: boundaries of research

For citation:
A. V. Nevskii. Sociology of volunteering: defining the boundaries of research. Vestnik instituta sotziologii. 2020. Vol. 11. No. 1. P. 32-48
DOI: https://doi.org/10.19181/vis.2020.11.1.624


The sociological study of volunteerism typically uses a definition which includes all possible types of free, unpaid activities which benefit other people. Such an approach transforms the very phenomenon of volunteerism into an analytical tool for studying various fields of economic and social life: degrees of development of civil society, employment structure, features of a certain economic mode. Regardless, the use of such a definition when researching volunteer movements presents certain problems. Multiple critics point out that such an approach towards understanding volunteerism, on one hand, leads to various types of volunteer activity being excluded from the scope of research, namely those which do not fully comply with the aforementioned criteria of free choice and gratuitousness; on the other hand, it waters down the concept of volunteerism, by merging it with other forms of civil action, such as political activism. Furthermore, most studies exhibit a tendency towards highlighting volunteerism as a special type of action, which possesses persistent intrinsic characteristics regardless of the field in which it is being undertaken. Such an approach results in a complete lack of care for certain essential features of various types of those productive activities which volunteers can partake in. It’s also worth noting that research doesn’t tend to include practices of volunteerism when the main focus of analysis shifts towards studying the socio-demographic characteristics of participants, as well as issues concerning their motivation. Based on analyzing Russian and foreign sources, the article presents an overview of the issues associated with defining the boundaries of the field in question, while discussing the main difficulties when it comes to constructing a general theory of volunteerism, and analyzing the separation of various forms of civil activity which is typically present in foreign literature: volunteerism, grassroots political involvement, civil activism. The article brings forth arguments for limiting the subject of research and for analytical separation between various forms of civil activity.


volunteering, civic activism, labor, leisure, NGO


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