Accepted Paper:

Selfish giving: the discourse of volunteering motivations  


Tomoko Hayakawa (University College, London)

Paper short abstract:

I discuss volunteering motivations as a discourse which reflects the individual volunteers’ understanding as well as prevailing social perceptions of volunteering. By looking at volunteers engaged with community-care in London, I explore the morality of giving and the institutional context as important elements affecting volunteering motivations.

Paper long abstract:

This paper looks at volunteering for community care in London. In this case study, volunteers show both self-interests and their interest in others' benefit when they are engaged in volunteering, which indicates the multifunctionality of volunteering and pluralism of motives.

Nevertheless, the way volunteers present their motivational factors is significantly focused on themselves, which seems to suggest that giving is an act of self-fulfillment. Altruism is negatively perceived, as it makes the volunteers look partronising to the service users. I argue that there is a logic behind these contradictory phenomena.

By looking at volunteering motivations as a contextually constructed discourse, I explore the role of three distinct facets of volunteering: 1) an increasing awareness of volunteering as a stepping stone towards or a substitute for paid work, 2) the logic of exchange used by voluntary organisations as a strategy to promote volunteering, one that emphasises the instrumental function of volunteering as a means to pursuing self-interests, 3) the rhetoric of the political correctness of power equality between volunteers and service users, which ultimately negates altruism.

The analysis reveals that the discourse of volunteering motivations in this socio-cultural context is appropriated in ways that reflect these particular values and understandings.

Panel W101
Getting behind 'no man is an island' phrase: volunteering between altruism and self-interest