Description Parallel Stream Session B.2

Description Parallel Stream Session B.2

Parallel Stream Session B (11:15-12:30)
Stream B.2: Voluntary work as substitute for state responsibility.

Marit Hopman (Netherlands Ombudsman for Children) and Trudie Knijn (Utrecht University).

In 2013, reforms were set in place in the Netherlands, which moved the country from a hybrid welfare state into a so-called “participation society”. What this “participation society” actually means is (still) a matter of debate. However, regardless of the actual interpretation of the participation society, the core of the reform entailed a call for less state involvement (a smaller state) and more citizens’ involvement. It moved the traditional concept of volunteer work for one’s own community (e.g., the Church, the sports club) to a broader group of “unknown” people (e.g. refugees, poor people, lonely elderly, young adults leaving youth care, etc.). The Belgian government equally recognizes the benefits of citizen participation through voluntary work, most explicitly in the 2005 Act on the Rights of Volunteers. Though the Act formalizes the position of a volunteer, the moral underlying the Act underlines the social (i.e. social capital) as well as economic benefits of working with volunteers and relying on volunteer work. Comparable to the Netherlands, Belgium broadened the perspective on voluntary work from informal interrelations to a more formalize organisation of voluntary work.

In relation to the professional field of social work however, the domain of voluntary work has its own problems or bottlenecks. Voluntary work and broader solidarity practices are not a formal profession, while it increasingly has to live up to formal procedures and expectations. This in-between position comes with some uneasiness, not only in how voluntary organizations relate to government but also in how they relate to (civil) society. To name just a few:

  1. Once the State starts regulating voluntary work where does State responsibility for the receivers of this voluntary work begin and where does the responsibility of the volunteers end?
  2. What qualifications do volunteers need and what kind of back-up from professionals and their organisations is required?
  3. As organizations generally dealing with people in need, is regulation limited to formal procedures or would it also have to entail some form of ‘normative regulation’? In other words, who decides what is ‘just’?
  4. Who is carrying the burden of this volunteer work? Do the same inequalities in relation to gender, income and ethnicity that we see in paid work, apply to volunteer work? And if so, who then actually benefits from the social aspects of volunteer work?

For this workshop we invite papers dealing with such critical or ethical questions in relation to the field of voluntary work or solidarity practices in a broader sense. We hope to encourage a lively debate about issues as (in)equality and (in)justice in the more or less formalized (inter)dependent relations between people and groups of people