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Citizenship, volunteering and active ageing

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Jane Wheelock, Dr Mabel Lie, Dr Susan Baines


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Many voluntary organisations depend greatly on the unpaid services of older volunteers, a significant number of whom are women. Using data from one such organisation in the North East of England, this article uncovers the failure to link debates on citizenship with those on work-life balance, and the impact this has on clarifying citizenship issues as they relate to older people. Through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, our study found that volunteering is an expression of citizenship for many older people providing networks of support for both volunteer and client. This strong commitment to society and fellow citizens among older people counter-balances individualistic and instrumental reasons for volunteering promoted by the state and market. Our findings suggest that government views of volunteering as a route to paid work, as a panacea for society and therefore needing to be more ‘work-like’, are discordant with the perspectives of older volunteers. Rather than the promotion of the ‘citizen-worker’ or ‘consumer-citizen’, citizenship that is inclusive, interdependent and collective is arguably more beneficial to society. This is particularly pertinent at a time when shifts in welfare policy have been towards emphasising individual economic autonomy and self-provisioning, often to the detriment of older more vulnerable members of society and ultimately to networks of inter-generational trust and reciprocity.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Wheelock J, Lie MLS, Baines S

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Conference Name: International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR) 8th International Conference

Year of Conference: 2009

Number of Volumes: 6

Publisher: The International Society for Third-Sector Research