Volunteering, the flip side of work?

Just been to a meeting in Istanbul on the state of the worlds volunteerism”, where there was a lot of talk about the definition of volunteerism and how far it can be extended to include -

  • very small acts of helping one another (“microvolunteering”),
  • and/or very informal forms of help, for example in the neighbourhood,
  • and/or political or social activism,
  • and/or mutual self-help,
  • and/or helping or caring for one another within the family.

In a way it would be nice if it could, not least because it might help to balance out what might otherwise seem to be a dearth of volunteering in many countries outside the West.

The trouble is that I believe the ordinary-language understanding of volunteering” is dependent on the ordinary-language understanding of work”. Volunteering is work, albeit unpaid, freely conducted, etc. So if it couldn’t be work, it couldn’t be volunteering either. (Some people say, volunteering is older than paid work, but that isn’t true: before there was paid work, there was just work. Only then did some of the rest got called volunteering.) That might exclude some of the examples above.  If it couldn’t be paid for, it can’t count as volunteering either.

(It is important that caring and helping within the family is certainly unpaid, but it is explicitly excluded from all the definitions of volunteering I know - why exactly? Because it isn’t work?)

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