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The phenomenon of digital volunteerism in emergency situations: its essence, types and theoretical framework

Olga A. Basheva Candidate of Sociology Institute of Sociology of the FCTAS RAS, Moscow, Russia,
mailto: OlgaAUsacheva@yandex.ru
ORCID ID=0000-0003-1459-0091
Polina O. Ermolayeva Candidate of Sociology Institute of Sociology of the FCTAS RAS, Moscow, Russia,
mailto: polina-e@mail.ru
ORCID ID=0000-0001-7522-9537
The phenomenon of digital volunteerism in emergency situations: its essence, types and theoretical framework.
Vestnik instituta sotziologii. 2020. Vol. 11. No. 1. P. 49-71

DOI: 10.19181/vis.2020.11.1.625

Дата поступления статьи: 03.02.2020
This Article is downloaded: 239 times
Topic: Volunteers: boundaries of research

For citation:
Olga A. Basheva., Polina O. Ermolayeva. The phenomenon of digital volunteerism in emergency situations: its essence, types and theoretical framework. Vestnik instituta sotziologii. 2020. Vol. 11. No. 1. P. 49-71
DOI: https://doi.org/10.19181/vis.2020.11.1.625


The article presents the results of meta-analysis of Russian and foreign scientific research on digital volunteerism. In particular, it shows how it is conceptualized, in which forms it manifests, what distinguishes it from traditional offline volunteerism, how formal structures that deal with volunteer participation adapt to the digitization of their activity, as well as what sort of difficulties are associated with these processes, what are the advantages and restrictions compared to traditional forms of volunteerism in emergency situations, what sort of methodological tools are used to comprehend it, and what sort of gaps are still present in the understanding of this phenomenon. Despite literature lacking a clear definition of digital volunteerism, most authors consider it as voluntary activity which involves an individual spending their spare time helping other people, groups or organizations, all without receiving any direct rewards, but while inevitably using modern information-communication technologies while sitting at home or in any other place beyond the office. On one hand, digital volunteerism’s main features include increased flexibility and the opportunity for large groups of the population to engage in volunteer activity, while on the other hand we have the need for certain well-established technical skills, anonymity, as well as the possibility of providing false information. In terms of functionality, volunteers are divided into those responsible for collecting and analyzing massive streams of data, developers of new digital platforms and applications, and online community administrators. Digital volunteerism issues are examined within such areas of knowledge as citizen science, cooperative computerized work activity, crisis information science, crisis communications etc. Digital volunteerism, which is located on an interdisciplinary divide, is interpreted through various theoretical frameworks, in particular through digital humanitaristics, network approaches and Castells’ theory, the collective production theory, the “common use digital economy” approach, the concept of indirect activity and digital activism. The possibilities and restrictions of these approaches in regards to the Russian context create an opportunity to analyze empirical research data.


digital volunteering, information and communication technologies, digital humanism, social networks, crowdsourcing, mapping, voluntary geographical information, emergency


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