Avoiding Intimacy: An Ethnographic Study of Beneficent Boundaries in Virtual Voluntary Social Work

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Within the rich literature on volunteering, the topic of volunteer-user interaction and the mechanisms causing or mitigating inequality in this interaction remain understudied. Moreover, knowledge on how digitalization affects voluntary interaction is scarce. Based on a qualitative study of a Danish organization that offers virtual voluntary tutoring, this paper shows how technological and formal aspects of the organizational context may mitigate the risk of volunteers engaging in paternalistic, intimacy-seeking behaviour. First, reliance on information and communications technology (ICT) and managerial logics sustains a bounded form of interaction in which solving a problem is the focal point, while access to personal background information is limited. Second, the organizational design suspends sociability as a criterion for differential treatment of users. Third, anonymous mediated interaction enables temporal and audio-visual asymmetry, allowing users to perform ‘digitally sustained impression management’.
Translated title of the contributionAt undgå nærhed: Et etnografisk studie af velgørende grænser i virtuelt frivilligt socialt arbejde
Original languageEnglish
JournalVOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Third-sector organizations
  • Virtual Volunteering
  • Hybridization
  • Information and Communication technologies (ICT)
  • Materiality


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