Volunteerism on demand - An ethnographic study of virtual volunteering in an online based organization

Grubb, A. (Foredragsholder)

Aktivitet: Foredrag og mundtlige bidragGæsteforelæsning


The fact that the internet and web based technologies such as social network sites create new possibilities for civic involvement was noted years ago (Lorentzen & Hustinx 2007), and much interesting research has been done since then on – among many things - the organizational consequences and barriers when NGO’s integrate web technologies (Eimhjellen 2014). Less is known, however, about how the possibility of coordinating and carrying out voluntary work “on line” is experienced by the volunteers. Furthermore, we need to grasp in which ways these new virtual contexts for volunteering, in interdependence with a changing institutional context, create new forms of volunteerism, new contexts for interaction among volunteers, new platforms for interaction between volunteers and the users of voluntary services and – in turn – possible new or altered ideas of what it means to be a volunteer and be part of a voluntary organisation. The lecture will be a presentation of various findings from an ethnographic study carried out in Denmark between 2012 and 2014 that focused on the practice and meaning making of young volunteers who provide virtual tutoring in a non-membership based organisation that uses digital platforms and social network sites to coordinate the work. The findings are the product of 1,5 years of virtual and physical field work and 29 interviews with volunteers and managers at “Project Virtual Tutoring”, a Danish state-funded, partnership-based organization that provide voluntary virtual tutoring for pupils in socially marginalised residential areas. Despite the great democratic expectations that tend to cling to any mentioning of voluntary work and civil society – let alone youth volunteers (!), this study indicated that the institutional and technological context of PVT co-created an organisation where hardly any of the young volunteers cared to know anything about what they were part of or felt the need to influence the organizational development (be that in a democratic manner or any other). Most volunteers appreciated the formal and technological borders that demarcated their involvement with co-volunteers as well as users, and everyone expected the organization to enable (and accept) a flexible and time-efficient form of participation that could be combined with other obligations in their busy everyday lives. At the same time, the target-group of the virtual tutoring, pupils with ethnic minority backgrounds, declared (in the numerous surveys carried out by the management at PVT) that they appreciated the flexibility and good service offered by the volunteers at “virtual tutoring”. Furthermore, the organisation kept expanding its opening hours and develop its IT platforms to make them compatible with even more kinds of tablets and smart phones. Based on these findings I conceptualize the form of volunteering at “Project Virtual Tutoring” and similar projects as ”Volunteerism on demand”, drawing a parallel to other digital “On demand” services, enabled by web technology: The organisation demands flexible, temporarily engaged volunteers just as the volunteers demand an organization that allows for a flexible, task-oriented form of involvement, while the users appreciate that PVT offers a flexible, easy –accessible “service”. Various forms of web technology enable this task oriented flexibility and instrumentality that permeates the organisation and seems to be considered legitimate by volunteers and managers alike. More than being a purely technological matter, however, the concept of “volunteerism on demand” is chosen to describe the contextual responsiveness of organisations like Virtual Tutoring that depend on provisional funding and temporary partnerships. More than referring to the technical setup of the organisation, the notion of volunteerism “on demand” thus refers to the willingness of this and other organisations on temporary funding, to adapt to the needs and demands of external stakeholders, users and volunteers whenever they need a certain task or goal to be met. To some extend the notion of “volunteerism on demand” also relates to the wider life-world of the young volunteers who are constantly reminded to act strategically, time-efficient and instrumental – also when they do voluntary work (even though a recent Danish study document that there is no correlation between volunteering and carrier options, the public idea remains that voluntary work benefits your CV). References Eimhjellen, Ivar Sognnæs (2014): Web technologies in practice: the integration of web technologies by environmental organizations; Media, Culture and Society (36) 6 845- 861. Lorentzen, Håkon & Hustinx, Lesley (2007): “Civic Involvement and Modernization”, Journal of Civil Society, 3:2, 101-118.
Periode13 okt. 2017
PlaceringGent, Belgien
Grad af anerkendelseInternational