Gifts, Virtues and Obligations of University Volunteering : The Proper Thing to Do book cover
1st Edition

Gifts, Virtues and Obligations of University Volunteering
The Proper Thing to Do

ISBN 9780367859541
Published November 30, 2021 by Routledge
254 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This book takes a critical, grounded and ethnographic approach to elicit a deeper understanding of university volunteering. Anthropological theories of reciprocal gift exchange are used to re-visit some of the value-laden and at times conflicting ways of understanding volunteering as freely undertaken or coerced, altruistic or self-interested. It also explores how some of the changing uses and expectations of volunteering are related to the exercise of power and to the effect of social norms or structural constraints on agency. The book contains a detailed case study of a UK university, focusing on its relationships with local communities and voluntary organisations to illustrate the complex and culturally situated nature of volunteering and the gift. Joanna Puckering also draws on examples from countries such as the United States and Australia to address wider questions of why people do what they do, and why volunteering motives and outcomes attract differing interpretations. This volume will be relevant to scholars from anthropology, sociology and geography as well as those involved in the higher education and voluntary, corporate and social enterprise sectors.

Table of Contents


PART I Framing Volunteering and the Gift

1 Virtues, gifts and volunteering

2 Hierarchies and visions of reality

3 Paths and patterns

4 Volunteering and the ‘Durham Difference’

PART II Tensions and Paradoxes of the Gift

5 Volunteering is optional and obligatory

6 Volunteering combines autonomy, dependence and power

7 Volunteering in whose interest?

PART III Gift Relationships, Discourses and Identities

8 Social bonds, language and contingent volunteers

9 Mutual partnerships and hierarchies of power

Concluding thoughts: gifts, virtues or obligations?


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Joanna Puckering is a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology of Durham University. She co-edited From the Lighthouse: Interdisciplinary Reflections on Light (2018, Routledge, with Veronica Strang and Tim Edensor).