Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

The Values of Volunteering. Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

The Values of Volunteering. Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Article excerpt

Paul Dekker & Loek Halman (Eds.), The Values of Volunteering. Cross- Cultural Perspectives, Kluver Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, Boston, Dordrecht, London, Moscow, 2003, 226 p.

Although volunteering is an age-old social phenomenon, its theoretical issues and empirical research have been gaining ground currently, and it applies to the post-socialist countries as well. This is why the English language book consisting of eleven challenging Chapters by various authors is worth considering. The volume to be reviewed focuses on theoretical issues of volunteering such as its definition, motivations, micro- and macro-level determinants, and especially the relationship between volunteering and values. In the empirical Chapters mostly the data related to several countries and cultures are processed by means of quantitative, e.g. multivariable methods.

Definitions and the new type of volunteering

The definition of volunteering is raised in several studies of the book. Highlighting the common elements volunteering can be described as a non-obligatory activity, it is carried out for the benefit of others (individuals, or specific organizations or society as a whole), it is unpaid and normally it takes place in an organized context. According to another analysis (Chapter 9) the definition of volunteering is more restricted, it takes place in formal, organized context, its motivation is not altruistic, it is not like a commodity, it is carried out for the benefit of others or society as a whole, it is voluntary and unpaid. In contrast with the definitions used in everyday language some authors (Chapter 2 and 9) emphasize that volunteering is not a purely altruistic activity as it can be beneficial for the individual. According to Chapter 2 defining volunteering, i.e. what actually can be regarded volunteering, is highly dependent on the net costs (the costs of volunteering and minus its benefit). The more voluntary an activity is regarded the more the costs of volunteering surpass the benefit produced by it. However, as data show, countries also differ with regard to what people see as volunteering, which may be due to the diversity in cultures and traditions.

In Chapter 10 the new type of volunteering is described. This type of volunteering is more specialized, less ideological; it demands less from their members than the movements that previously dominated the sector. The traditional volunteering based on values are less appealing, whereas the increase in cultural or leisure oriented volunteering, sports associations, organizations helping disabled, neighbourhood associations can be seen. More and more local organizations are becoming independent from national or regional levels of the organizations. The new pattern of volunteering offers challenging and meaningful activities, activity-oriented, the engagement is for short term and the turnover in the organizations is rather high. These developments are linked to a general process of individualization, which however cannot be totally identified with egoism. Chapter 7 shows that nowadays the service-oriented attitude is emerging, which creates a climate of trust and results in a more satisfactory and productive relationship between volunteer and recipient, in contrast with the earlier "merely" helping attitude, where reciprocity was not necessarily prevalent.

Micro- and macro determinants of volunteering

Micro- and macro level determinants of volunteering are also investigated in most of the studies. In Chapter 9 the authors have examined the individual determinants of volunteering in Romania such as gender, education, income, social network, religiosity, the size of the settlement, value system and age. Regarding individuals the role of resources such as material, cultural and social capital seems to be essential, with a special emphasis put on the role of social network. In Chapter 3 the impact of social capital is examined in detail. The theoretical predictions have been confirmed by the results to a large extent, namely active engagement in religious institutions, membership in voluntary organization, an extended social network (family and friends) and political activity are closely related to volunteering in most countries. …

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