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Volunteering in higher education : gifts, virtues or obligations?

There is a re-appraisal taking place in many Higher Education institutions in relation to their engagement with national and global rhetoric and policy. This Ph.D. takes a critical and ethnographic approach to elicit a deeper understanding of volunteering at one particular institution within UK Higher Education, focusing on its relationships with other communities and voluntary organisations in the region. Anthropological theories of reciprocal gift exchange are used to re-visit some of the value-laden and often dichotomous ways of understanding volunteering as either altruistic or self-interested and in so doing, explore how some of the changing uses and expectations of volunteering are related to the exercise of power and the effect of social norms or structural constraints on agency. Grounded theory, gift theory and critical discourse analysis are combined in order to gain fresh perspectives about the complex and contradictory nature of UK Higher Education volunteering in the contemporary socio-economic climate. Results suggest that at a management level, Durham University represents staff and student volunteering as the ‘natural’ thing to do, as a route to employability and personal development. It is increasingly accepted that volunteering benefits both giver and receiver, and that self-interest is not incompatible with ‘doing the right thing’. However, there are also concerns that focusing on volunteering as a vehicle for finding a job, as part of the curriculum, to meet targets, or to improve the University’s image, has a negative impact on activities and also on organisations that do not fit dominant discourses or the needs of volunteers. Whilst university volunteering is described in terms of bridge building, or addressing perceptions of elitism and exclusivity, Durham University is also described as distant, privileged and separate from the community in which many of its staff and students live and work, suggesting that university-community relationships are not necessarily those of mutual or equal partners. There is a need for further research into the socio-cultural, moral and academic influences that inform the decision whether or not to become a volunteer, since Higher Education institutions may be pursuing volunteer policies based on flawed assumptions. This is especially relevant in the context of widespread public spending cuts and international competition for both academic and volunteer funding.
Date January 2015
CreatorsPuckering, Joanna Elizabeth
PublisherDurham University
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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