Tag Archives: Colin Rochester

Conviviality with a cause

Conviviality with a cause

This is the second of two posts prompted by a reading of Colin Rochester’s publication ‘Rediscovering Voluntary Action: The Beat of a Different Drum’ (2013) Palgrave Macmillan

My first post, entitled, ‘The marketisation marvel in higher education’ (26th March 2014) included observations about the relationship between the state and the voluntary & community sector:

http://jebounford.net/the-marketisation-marvel-in-higher-education/

This post is about voluntary action and the research agenda.

In critically appraising the historiography of voluntary action, Rochester embraces notions of ‘conviviality’ and ‘expressive behaviour’, providing a fresh insight into the roots of volunteering.  Breaking free of a ‘narrow paradigm’, he looks beyond the restrictive archetype of volunteering as a philanthropic act and explores what he describes as a desire for ‘conviviality’ that is closely allied to recreational activities and the constructive use of leisure time.  I don’t believe for a moment that Rochester is claiming we use all our spare time for idle pursuits.  I do believe that he is retelling the traditional chronicle and in doing so, providing a new lens through which we may see the act of volunteering as ‘serious leisure’; a term used by Rochester as he works towards his, ‘truly ‘round earth’ map of the territory’.

Rochester draws upon Hemming’s conclusion that participation in volunteer groups provides, ‘a sense of camaraderie and fellowship; a sense of belonging or identity; and above all, ‘an excuse to escape’ and ‘an adult form of play’.  It contributes to a sense of community (Hemming 2011).  He believes ‘expressive’ volunteering enables people to pursue an interest out of love for the activity rather than financial reward, and to act upon their most cherished beliefs.

In my blog entitled, ‘Why ‘extreme’ volunteering is too extreme’ (31st Jan 2014), I pleaded for us not to ignore the mundane, as without it, society would come unstuck; meeting basic needs, such as having some form of day-to-day human contact via a simple act of kindness, no matter how small:

http://jebounford.net/why-extreme-volunteering-is-too-extreme/

It’s about community on many levels.  Since moving to Great Gransden, for example, I’ve been struck by the way in which the expressive and the mundane are fused in friendships of all kinds, in all scenarios, responding to need, and sharing recreation, joy and troubled times.

I would call it conviviality with a cause.

Rochester also calls for a radical revision of the research agenda in this field.  Critical of an academic tradition that has, ‘not produced much in the way of additional ‘usable theory’’ (his ‘honourable exceptions’ include Horton Smith 2000, Lohmann 1992 and Milofsky 2008), he wants research to move away from quantitative methods, that is, collecting evidence by measuring e.g. organisations, resources and time spent on volunteering.  Existing qualitative research is also judged to be of limited scope, diverting attention from what volunteers actually do, and how they work together; what is the balance – or tension – between expressive aims (or member benefit) and instrumental aims (or public benefit)?; why and how do people join non-bureaucratic groups?; how is the ‘work’ of the group organised?  He says we need qualitative research that develops ‘usable’ theories to explain ‘how things work’.

In attempting to move away from the concentration on measuring the instrumental impacts of volunteering, Rochester looks to the IVR Impact Assessment Toolkit which groups ‘the major ways in which stakeholders can be affected’ into five types of ‘capital’ – physical, human, economic, social and cultural.  He clearly approves of this societal level analysis, saying it captures much – but not all – of the constellation of roles and functions played by volunteering.  Social capital, for example, contributes to the creation of a ‘more cohesive community through building relationships, networks and bond of trust between people’.

My concern is that having criticised a ‘dominate paradigm’ that characterises volunteering as a gift of time (analogous to a gift of money) Rochester then appears to endorse the notion of capital which itself is contested as a tool of analysis in certain academic quarters.  For example, Bev Skeggs, in her 2013 BJS Annual Public Lecture last October, concluded that as sociologists we have a duty not to reproduce the logic of capital in everything we analyse.  In applying the logic of capital we convert everything into commodity.  We become the subject of capital and we internalise its imperatives.

http://www.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/videoAndAudio/channels/publicLecturesAndEvents/player.aspx?id=2057

I am currently grappling with this issue in my own research where I am asking if ‘community’ may be construed as a form of capital and exploring the conditions necessary for the existence of community inside the academy.  I am, for example, seeking signifiers of personal, physical and institutional attributes that may reveal the existence of ‘community’ capital.  Last week my supervisor asked me how I intended to ‘measure’ these forms of capital.  I didn’t have an answer and, to be honest, that doesn’t worry me.

As I work through the final analysis, I am minded to heed Skeggs’ call for us to look for where the theories don’t work, where they can’t be applied.  This is where, in my view, Rochester’s plea for us to embrace the expressive and Skeggs’ entreaty for the expression of ‘values beyond value’, come together.

I’m now wondering how ‘community’ may be understood in its expressive form… in 2015 I may have an answer.

References

Bev Skeggs, ‘Values beyond value? Is anything beyond the logic of capital?’

2013 BJS Annual Public Lecture, given at the London School of Economics on 17th October 2013 –

http://www.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/videoAndAudio/channels/publicLecturesAndEvents/player.aspx?id=2057

Hemming, H. (2011) Together: How Small Groups Achieve Big Things, London: John Murray

Lohmann, R. (1992) The Commons: New Perspectives on Nonprofit Organisations and Voluntary Action, San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass

Milofsky, C. (2008) Smallville: Institutionalizing Community in Twenty-First Century America, Hanover, NH and London, University Press of New England

Smith, D. H. (2000) Grassroots Associations, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

The marketisation marvel in higher education

The marketisation marvel in higher education

This is the first of two posts prompted by a reading of Colin Rochester’s publication ‘Rediscovering Voluntary Action:  The Beat of a Different Drum’ (2013) Palgrave Macmillan

After 45 years of working with and writing about, volunteers and voluntary organisations, Rochester is better qualified than most to stimulate and inform a debate about the notion of a ‘invented’ unified voluntary and community sector in the UK; to observe the nature of the relationship between government and this sector as it takes on the ‘mainstream’ delivery of state services; to revise the typology of voluntary action; and to call for a radical revision of the research agenda in this field.  My second post will be about voluntary action and the research agenda.

Rochester’s seminal work is published against the background of the rise and rise of a neo-liberal discourse that has seeped into every aspect of our lives.  It is a refreshing and timely addition to the congregation that is calling for a different approach to how we understand what it is to be a person in the western world; an approach that enables us to acknowledge and embrace expression as a form of sociality and being.

The beginning of the neo-liberal agenda in this country, in this context, is marked as the election of the Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher in 1979 which Rochester sees as a milestone, alongside 1945; a marker of a new phase of political and social history.  As many have observed elsewhere, this agenda continued to thrive through the New Labour administrations and we now have a new multi-party consensus about the, ‘parameters and driving forces of public and social policy’.  Rochester declares that the rise of neo-liberalism has led to the permeation of voluntary organisations and volunteering by the values and norms of the market as part of a profound and far-reaching change in the political culture, not only of the UK but also of much of the World.

No doubt Rochester would agree that these market values and norms have pervaded many domains of our existence; personal and professional.  The marketisation of higher education, for example, observed daily by those of us who work in the sector, gained impetus this month with the publication of the OFT Call for Information on Higher Education in England.  In response to the OFT findings, Paul Clarke (Director of Policy at Universities UK), acknowledges that in the opinion of the OFT, some higher education structures and practices, ‘belong to an era that has now passed.’  The parallels between Rochester’s analysis of the voluntary & community sector and what is happening in higher education today are striking.

According to Rochester, the ‘invention’ of a unified voluntary sector in Britain facilitated the casting of voluntary sector organisations in a more central role on the stage of social policy in the delivery of state services.  He describes the promotion of a unified voluntary sector as a ‘massive sleight of hand’, whereby the organisational norms of bureaucracy and the culture and practices of the private sector has ensured that the real beneficiaries of this greater role in the provision of state services are the top two percent of voluntary agencies including NCVO and ACEVO, and those in government bent on privatising public services.  He says that Government has been able to implement its policies under the cloak of ‘public esteem for charities’ and the argument that voluntary organisations have distinctive characteristics which given them ‘unique’ advantages over statutory bureaucracies.

Rochester questions these ‘distinctive’ characteristics as he observes the increasing homogenisation of the voluntary and community sector.  He is not referring to all voluntary organisations but the small minority that have been trusted with this new role of providing state services.  He says they are unrepresentative and that they have, ‘more in common with the agencies they have supplanted than they have with the bulk of the organisations that comprise the sector and provide the evidence for the characteristics featured in government rhetoric.’

My experience of working as a manager in the public and voluntary sectors concurs with Rochester’s observations.  Indeed, as a boundary-crosser, moving between these sectors (and then into higher education), it could be argued that I have been culpable in transmitting new managerial norms and practices from one sector to the next.  Rochester is particularly critical of the infrastructure organisations, the CVSs which have actively played their part through initiatives such as the ChangeUp programme and says that voluntary organisations have been, ‘nudged, bribed and sometimes coerced into becoming more and more similar in their structure and behaviour to the bureaucratic agencies of the state and the market.’

As someone who has been involved with the voluntary sector as a volunteer and as a manager, I have observed the colonisation of some of the larger charities by former local government employees who have in many respects turned their charities into the mirror image of the organisations they had left behind.  And in the circumstances you can hardly blame them.  As Rochester points out, the biggest voluntary organisations have been given a more central role in the delivery of public services and have gained substantial new resources as a result.

Rochester concludes that the models of business organisations have come to dominate our society and social institutions over the past thirty years.  He says that being ‘business-like’ was the ‘desirable characteristic’ and this meant imitating the approaches and techniques used in the private sector without questioning how appropriate and/or helpful they might be in organisations that were based on very different values and principles.

Many of us can bear witness to a similar trend in higher education.  What has elsewhere been described as the ‘economic ideology of education’ is a phenomenon much debated. But it is not a recent revelation.  In 1890 German university professors complained that their world was increasingly dominated by blind economic processes, by the power of money, and by the weight of numbers (Salter and Tapper 1994).  In universities today, this manifests itself in a discourse and managerial structure dominated by enterprise and an emulation of the business world.  As a member of the new management clan in a university, I am no innocent bystander though at times it feels like I’m drowning in an alien discourse that bears little or no resemblance to my own academic practice.

According to Rochester, many voluntary organisations have lost sight of their original purposes and functions, and apart from not distributing their profits or surpluses as dividends, they are indistinguishable from private sector companies.  I believe that universities ARE still distinguishable from private sector companies.

As the marketisation marvel glides confidently into the admissions arena, I hear colleagues declare “it’s official, we are now a ‘private enterprise’”.

Really?

This post represents my own views and not those of my institution.

References:

OFT report: higher education is a market, but the student-university relationship remains unique – UUK Blog posted on 14 March 2014 by Paul Clark

http://blog.universitiesuk.ac.uk/2014/03/14/oft-report-higher-education/

Salter, B. and Tapper, T (1994) The State and Higher Education The Woburn Press