Accepted paper:

Young volunteers in Sierra Leone: 'hope labour' and investment in a waged future


Alice Chadwick (University of Bath)

Paper short abstract:

Analysing the experiences of young volunteers and their engagement with development organisations in Freetown, Sierra Leone, I argue that volunteering becomes a form of 'hope labour' through which young people orientate themselves towards future paid work in the development sector.

Paper long abstract:

Volunteering has played a prominent role in development since its inception, but increasingly questions are being asked about what volunteering means as a form of under-recognised work - especially given the increasing informalisation of work at the global level. In Sierra Leone, as in many other countries, development organisations encourage young people to volunteer as a means of achieving empowerment and inculcating 'active citizenship'. But development organisations, whether they be international or national, are dependent upon the un or underpaid labour of volunteers to achieve their aims, especially when it comes to priorities around youth empowerment and community participation. In this paper I consider this relationship between volunteering, work and development organisations through empirical analysis of young people's experiences of volunteering. I argue that young people's engagement as volunteers within development organisations represents a form of 'hope labour' (Kuehn and Corrigan 2013) an investment in the present towards the hoped-for materialisation of a future of paid work within the development sector. Volunteering thus is a form of work that although itself often unremunerated is orientated towards a future of waged work, of which the development sector, provides an often-preferable form. Therefore, the under-recognised labour of volunteering is intrinsically linked to the hope of formal paid employment, this raises questions about how volunteering is defined within development, and whether the term recognises the 'hope labour' and investment involved upon the part of young people identifying with a waged future which may never be realised.

panel N2
New geographies and imaginaries of work in the Global South [paper]