Free mini-symposium on the relational geographies of the voluntary sector. This was originally due to be a Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group sponsored session at the RGS-IBG 2020 but due to the conference being cancelled, it has been re-organised as a standalone virtual event.
Date/time: Thursday 24th September 2020 – 9:00-11:00 GMT
Convenors: Dr Geoffrey DeVerteuil (University of Cardiff) Dr Andrew Power, (University of Southampton)
To attend: Please email Andrew Power (email@example.com) and he will share the log-in details with you.
Symposium theme and outline
The relational approach has been key in advancing alternate understandings of how people and institutions encounter and shape their likely ‘contact points’ within the assemblages they occupy. A recent paper in Progress in Human Geography, ‘The Relational Geographies of the Voluntary Sector: Disentangling the Ballast of Strangers’ (by DeVerteuil, Power and Trudeau) has sought to update Fyfe and Milligan’s (2003) earlier touchstone on the sector by examining it as a series of far-flung and proximate entanglements, relationships and encounters both spatial and social. It focuses on the relations between the voluntary sector and the (shadow) state, internal spaces of client interaction, and external spaces within urban health contexts. People’s ‘contact points’ are understood as a melding of their relative position of power and how (much) they are inclined to engage reflexively with wider social and spatial mediating factors and discourses that shape other people’s contact points in the sector. In the paper, the authors argued that a more fluid, reflexive understanding of the voluntary sector as mediator rather than conduit can help to better capture people’s journeys in and through the various spaces ‘captured’ by its activities.
The session will start with opening words by Geoffrey DeVerteuil who will outline some of the emerging conceptual lines of debate within the relational geographies of the voluntary sector and introduce the four paper presentations. Following the papers, there will be time for questions and discussion.
Paper 1: “Spaces of encounter, bordering and contestation in international development volunteering”, Susanne SCHECH Flinders University, Australia
Abstract: Recent analyses of international development volunteering have drawn attention to the ways this voluntary sector builds on and sustains imaginaries of development that resonate with neoliberal ideas of need, authority and responsibility (e.g. Baillie Smith & Laurie, 2011; Lacey & Ilcan, 2006). This scholarship has contributed to a critical understanding of volunteering and development as a space in which volunteers are assembled as responsible citizens in the delivery of public services through a voluntary sector that is governed by results-based managerialism and power/knowledge centred in the North. Volunteers are called upon to progress global development agendas in a geopolitical assemblage comprising NGOs, state, supranational and private sector organizations, as well as media, celebrities, and other actors that produces largely depoliticised humanitarian interventions and affects (Mostafanezhad, 2014). Yet alternative conceptualisations of international development volunteering highlight its altruistic, solidaristic motivations and historic roots in civil society that provide a space for the engagement of ordinary citizen with unequal post-colonial development (Sobocinska, 2016), and for citizen statecraft as traditional patterns of geopolitical influence are becoming more unstable and contingent (Pinkerton & Benwell, 2014). This presentation explores that space to shed light on volunteers and their overseas colleagues in an Australian government funded program and their entanglements with a range of actors at various scales and in diverse geo-political contexts. Volunteers participate in a “collection of relations between heterogeneous entities to work together for some time” (Müller & Schurr, 2016), which include the volunteer program, its rules and practices, and partner states, and the volunteer hosting NGOs and their external relations. Drawing from case studies in Cambodia, Indonesia, Peru and Solomon Islands, the presentation analyses moments of tension in the assemblage and the ways in which volunteers, NGO hosts and other key stakeholders articulate and respond to them.
Paper 2: “Voluntary support in a ‘post-austerity’ landscape: Bidding for non-state funding to support precarious lives” Andrew Power, University of Southampton, UK
Abstract: This paper examines voluntary sector care and support provision under a context of significantly reduced government funding. Whilst geographers have analysed the causes and aftermath of austerity on different populations, little attention has been paid to how managers and staff of voluntary sector organisations have had to learn and evolve through bidding for non-statutory funding as a way to sustain their core support provision. Drawing on research with voluntary support organisations in the learning disability social care sector in England and Scotland, the paper examines the effects of the state’s continued reliance on the sector for core ‘public’ services whilst simultaneously withdrawing its funding. Using accounts from staff and managers, the paper offers a particularly novel and potent example of the unfinished and unsettled nature of care and support that has unfolded in the wake ofausterity.
Paper 3: “Mediating the purchase of the market and the state on the lives of people with intellectual disability: a view from Australian community centres” Ellen Van Holstein University of Melbourne, Australia. Abstract: Contemporary approaches in voluntary sector geographies highlight how voluntary organisations are relationally constituted by their internal spaces, the external spaces of the urban environment, and relationships of the organisation to the state. Rather than directly internalising and conducing external pressures, voluntary organisations are increasingly understood as mediating external influences and stressors such as the neoliberal policies of post-welfare states. In Australia, a recent overhaul of the administration of disability support funding has substantially impacted on how people with disabilities engage with volunteer-led organisations. The National Disability Insurance Scheme represents a transition from organisations receiving bulk funding, to people with disabilities receiving individualised support budgets. One objective of the Scheme was to challenge the ongoing segregation of people with disabilities into the specialist disability support service industry. This paper draws on in-depth interviews with people with intellectual disability and the managers of community centres in the State of Victoria, Australia to analyse how staff and people with intellectual disability adjust to state sanctioned changes in the allocation of disability support entitlements. This paper contributes to understanding processes of mediation by focusing on three sets of bordering practices in these community centres. The first set demonstrates that centres strategically moderate the purchase of the state on the sociality of centres. The second reveals how centres mediate the influence of market dynamics on practices in centres. The third demonstrates how practices shape the inclusion of people with intellectual disability in the activities and social life of community centres. Together these sets show that the interplay of bordering practices have various inclusionary and exclusionary effects for this marginalised group of community centre visitors.
Paper 4: “Playing or Being Played? Ambivalence and Antagonism in the Tokyo 2020 Volunteer Programme”Conor Moloney, Queen Mary University London, UK
Abstract: Cities are increasingly animated by different forms of play: product placements, street games, interactive pop-ups, immersive installations, and so on. However, in taking up such participatory invitations and attending to their immediacy, critical awareness may necessarily be suspended: we ‘enter into the fun of it’ whilst social, economic and political implications are obscured. Drawing from critical perspectives on the ‘relational turn’ in the humanities, this paper considers apparent paradoxes in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games volunteer programme. Fieldwork conducted in Summer 2019 involved programme participants and organisers during the orientation phase prior to formal training. It investigated the terms of the relational ‘contract’ structured around volunteers, how equipped they were to negotiate it, and how organisers attended to their ethical responsibilities. Findings suggest that while key aspects of the programme could be considered ‘dramaturgical’, there appeared to be considerable ambivalence in carrying this through into a relational volunteer experience—particularly when compared with other large-scale volunteer programmes such as the Tokyo Marathon and long-term disaster recovery in the Tohoku region. This ambivalence has its counterpart in Tokyo’s anti-Olympic activism, which focussed critique on the Volunteer programme in a way unimaginable in London 2012. This antagonism was largely conceptualised in terms of labour relations, with the inference that traditional Japanese norms of hospitality and duty were being instrumentalised for corporate purposes. This rather transactional understanding of the role implied a certain complicity by volunteers in their own exploitation, whilst failing to account for the relational aspects of the role which many volunteers reported as valued. The paper concludes by reflecting on the tensions between the Games establishment, the state apparatus, and the voluntary sector organisers who actually delivered the volunteer training programme—from which these paradoxes appear (at least in part) to derive.
Any other queries relating to this symposium contact: Andrew Power (firstname.lastname@example.org)