The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

GC Events

November 29 – Historical Trends in Volunteerism: Continuities and Discontinuities in Rates, Styles and Motivations

Join us on Thursday, November 29, at 12:30 pmfor a discussion with:

Susan M. Chambré, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Baruch College, CUNY

Historical Trends in Volunteerism: Continuities and Discontinuities in Rates, Styles and Motivations

Abstract. Discussions of volunteering in the U.S. commonly accept the idea that volunteering has evolved in a linear fashion from a traditional, communally oriented and altruistic activity into a more opportunistic and self-reflexive one. Discussions of civil society organizations suggest several features of traditional volunteerism: volunteers were highly committed, altruistic, a significant source of unpaid labor and participated in cross-class organizations. This presentation considers two major questions concerning the idea that volunteering has changed. First, does historical evidence provide support for a “golden age” of volunteering with broad participation and a shift from traditional volunteers to a dominant pattern of reflexive, self interested and episodic volunteering? Second, what have been the social, cultural and institutional forces that influenced patterns and styles of volunteering at different periods of American history? This paper addresses these questions based on a review of historical and contemporary studies of communities, voluntary associations, unions, social movements, charities and events that mobilized volunteers. It describes numerous ways that volunteering has not changed but one important difference: contemporary volunteering is more transactional and motivated by a desire to “give back” or “give forward” to organizations that benefit oneself or one’s family and friends. The data also point to a relative inelasticity of both the supply and demand for volunteers except when rapid social changes and events like disasters, epidemics and broad-based social movements mobilize volunteers.

Meets in room 5401, Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, the Graduate Center.