The Politics of Volunteering

Author(s): Nina Eliasoph

Current Affairs & Politics

Many of us may have participated in grassroots groups, changing the world in small and big ways, from building playgrounds and feeding the homeless, to protesting wars and ending legal segregation. Beyond the obvious fruits of these activities, what are the broader consequences of volunteering for the participants, recipients of aid, and society as a whole? In this engaging new book, Nina Eliasoph encourages readers to reflect on their own experiences in civic associations as an entry point into bigger sociological, political, and philosophical issues, such as class inequality, how organizations work, differences in political systems around the globe, and the sources of moral selfhood. Claims about volunteering tend to be astronomical: it will create democracy, make you a better person, eliminate poverty, protect local cultures, and even lower cholesterol. Eliasoph cuts through these assertions by drawing on empirical studies, key data, real-life case studies, and a range of theoretical analyses. In doing so, the book provides students of sociology, political science, and communications studies with a framework for evaluating the role of civic associations in social and political life, as well as in their own lives as active citizens.


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"Amid the sea of muddled thinking about civil society and social policy, Nina Eliasoph's work shines like a beacon of clarity and rigor. This honest and nuanced account of the politics of volunteering marks a landmark contribution to the field." Michael Edwards, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Demos "With unerring aim, Nina Eliasoph punctures some of the most cherished myths about volunteerism. Yet, with sensitivity and compassion, she shows volunteers struggling to do good while coping with contradictions not of their own making. The result is a remarkable book that brings the concept of civil society to life in all its moral messiness." Francesca Polletta, University of California, Irvine " The Politics of Volunteering is a pleasure to read. Nina Eliasoph helps us to understand how civic associations based on volunteering are different from but overlap with civic associations devoted to political activism, and how each may be led to cross the boundary between them. In clarifying the landscape of our public life she helps us to see how a deeper look at the total picture can help us to be more effective in our public engagement. This is a valuable book for students but also for the many thousands of volunteers and activists in our midst." Robert Bellah, University of California, Berkeley

Nina Eliasoph is associate professor of sociology at the University of Southern California. Her previous books include Making Volunteers and Avoiding Politics .

Introduction: What Are Civic Associations? Chapter 1: Why Do Theorists Say Associations Are Crucial for Democracy? Chapter 2: Volunteering and Political Activism Chapter 3: Civic Association, the Market and Government: How Do Different Societies Balance Them Differently? Chapter 4: Neoliberalism and Grassroots Organizations Chapter 5: What Happens to Civic Participation in Conditions of Vast Social Inequality? Chapter 6: Opening Up Civic Participation Conclusion: Is Democracy in Our Future? Bibliography

General Fields

  • : 9780745650043
  • : Polity Press
  • : Polity Press
  • : March 2013
  • : United Kingdom
  • : April 2013
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Nina Eliasoph
  • : Paperback
  • : 361.7
  • : 200