Visions of Charity: Volunteer Workers and Moral Community

Visions of Charity: Volunteer Workers and Moral Community

Visions of Charity: Volunteer Workers and Moral Community

Visions of Charity: Volunteer Workers and Moral Community

Synopsis

"The collapse of community and the death of character have become familiar laments, but few commentators offer positive solutions grounded in solid empirical research. "Visions of Charity examines how people develop "moral selves" through acts of service to the needy. Through her balanced assessment of the moral meanings that volunteers attach to their service activities, Allahyari charts a way to reinvigorate our sense of community and character."--Robert Wuthnow, author of "Loose Connections: Joining Together in America's Fragmented Communities

"People work hard to create their moral selves, and Rebecca Allahyari shows us many of the ways they do it. "Visions of Charity describes the emotional processes and the creative processes as well as the moral rhetoric involved. The power of Allahyari's account comes from an unusual comparison between two Sacramento charities aiding the homeless, one a branch of the Salvation Army, the other a left-leaning Catholic organization. Because she did extensive fieldwork at each, she offers a fine-grained portrait of 'moral selving' from the bottom up. What is more-her experience forced her to abandon her initial expectations about which group treated the homeless with greater dignity and respect."--James M. Jasper, author of "The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements

Excerpt

American public talk about caring for poor people—in government and in the media—tends to be highly moralistic. Who deserves caring for? How ought care to be provided? Should the welfare state or private charity provide care for society's poor? What does the manner in which we provide care for the poor tell us about our society? This study does not pursue these moral debates at the philosophical level but rather explicates, through two case studies, how the competing moral visions in two Christian social service agencies take on meaning for volunteers doing the work of feeding the poor.

I began this research in 1990 intending to analyze how homeless people experience social control in their day-to-day interactions with shelter personnel, social workers, and police officers. My participantobservation in the two largest feeding programs for the homeless in Sacramento, California, drew my attention to the significance of volunteers in this endeavor. My interest in relating the politics of welfare to the sociology of morality emerged from an awareness of my own moral struggles with the volunteer work of feeding the homeless. Many fieldworkers stress how their cognitive perspective filters what they record and analyze; fewer consider how they came to realizations based on their understandings of how they themselves struggled with violations of their own emotional and moral assumptions in their participation in the lives of those they study.

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