Volunteering as a balancing act: who’s got time for that?
Laidlaw, Margaret Fraser
This thesis explores the temporal dimensions of women’s voluntary involvement in civic activities. How and why people find or make the time to volunteer within their busy lives is a puzzle given that volunteering is not always easy. It is not just about finding/having time, it is also about synchronising with others and fitting into a group when needed, and how this might be dovetailed with other commitments in the life of a volunteer. The thesis presents an account that allows for agency through negotiation within the constraints of everyday demands. It argues that individuals cannot freely choose how to use their time, that it is always a question of negotiation with others – partners, children, employers, organisers, bureaucracies and so on. This study adds distinctive conceptual contributions to the field of community and volunteering studies by using the work of Norbert Elias to understand how women negotiate the various networks in their lives. Data from three case studies of women’s volunteering are analysed using Elias’s concept of the ‘we-I balance’ to explore the motivations behind time for ‘community’ commitments being carved out of busy schedules. The three case studies offer distinctive sites for examining ideas around volunteering and civic participation and the making of community – and the challenges and negotiations involved in this. Through ethnographic fieldwork, including interviews, informal conversations and poetry workshops, the study identifies volunteers as people who skilfully negotiate their time with the organisation, with significant others in their lives, with themselves, and with technology in order to facilitate their volunteering. In the process, it presents findings about how time is experienced, managed and appropriately paced, and the processes by which the agendas of collectivities and of individuals come to be compatible in the ‘we-I balance’.