News & Press: General

CALL - Voluntas Special Issue on Inequality in Volunteering

Friday, March 29, 2019  
Share |

Voluntas special issue proposal


Inequality in volunteering: Building a new research front.


Guest editors: 

Lesley Hustinx (UGent), Ane Grubb (Aalborg University), Paul Rameder (Vienna University of Economics and Business), Itamar Shachar (University of Amsterdam)


Abstract submissions due: May 31st , 2019
(Please submit extended abstracts of no more than two pages to


Full paper submissions due: October 15th, 2019 


In a recent, century-wide examination of the knowledge production in the field of non-profit and philanthropic studies, Ma and Konrath (2018) identified the study of volunteering as one of the ‘‘unique cores’’ of the field. “Theories of volunteering” form a central cluster and predominantly focus on “the preconditions, motivations, and consequences of volunteering” (Ma & Konrath, 2018, p.1148). The systematic mapping by Ma and Konrath (2018) confirms the predominant reliance of theorizations of volunteering on an input/output-model aimed at predicting participation in volunteering on the one hand, and various (desirably positive) outcomes of volunteering on the other hand (see also Wilson, 2000, 2012). Predominant explanatory theories are the ‘dominant status theory’ (Smith, 1994) and the ‘resource theory’ (Wilson & Musick, 1997). Combined, these theories posit that dominant groups in society are most likely to volunteer: first, because they possess the economic, social and cultural resources needed to engage in volunteering; second, because these resources are associated with dominant status positions which render high-status volunteers more desirable for volunteer organizations. These theories furthermore ground the decision to volunteer in a rational choice framework, constructing individuals as rational and utilitarian actors who decide to volunteer based on an expectation for some kind of benefit (Musick & Wilson, 2008; Qvist, 2018).


This special issue starts from the observation that the preoccupation of volunteering research with “predicting participation in volunteering” has resulted in a relative status-quo in the knowledge production on volunteering. Indeed, several criticisms have been raised. First, although the resource theory is a powerful explanatory model, research in this tradition is highly repetitive, continuously reconfirming the relationship between resources and volunteering as an empirical regularity (Son & Wilson, 2012). Only very recent work has begun to advance a more refined analysis of the mechanisms, factors and rationalizations underlying the decision to volunteer (Son & Wilson, 2012, 2015; Qvist 2018). Second, the resource model mainly deals with the question of access to volunteering (yes/no), hereby neglecting significant processes and mechanisms that occur within the ‘black box of volunteering’ (Shachar et al., 2019). Indeed, volunteering is treated as a homogeneous and stable activity for which resources function in a standard way both in terms of access and volunteer experience. In this way, dominant theories of volunteering neglect the variety of volunteering dynamics that may characterize various sectors and forms of volunteering (e.g., Overgaard et al., 2018), and provide little insight into both inter-organizational hierarchies and intra-organizational status differences and power dynamics between volunteers, professionals and clients (e.g., Grubb & Henriksen, 2018; Hustinx & De Waele, 2015; Krinsky & Simonet, 2017; Ostrower, 2002; Rogers 2015). It has further been argued that the resource theory fails to capture the specific reality of vulnerable groups and puts too much emphasis on what low-income volunteers “lack” (Benenson & Stagg, 2016). Another normative thrust implied in these dominant theories, namely that volunteering is per definition a desirable and positive activity, is seldom explicated or called into question (Eliasoph, 2011; Shachar et al., 2019).


This special issue therefore aims at building a new “research front” (Ma & Konrath, 2018) by shifting the central analytical focus to the question of “inequality in volunteering”, which provides a unifying lens for examining the various concerns raised. This focus – in spite of its central importance and pertinence in the field of volunteering – remains largely unnoticed in the resource and dominant status theories. Compared to the notion of “resources”, the concept of “inequality” incites a much broader research agenda: first, by introducing a more complex body of theorizing beyond the current “covering laws-approach” (Hustinx et al., 2010); second, by considering mechanisms and dynamics of inequality across a more comprehensive “volunteer process model” in terms of antecedents, processes, and consequences (Wilson, 2012). We firmly anchor this new research agenda in a long-standing tradition of inequality research that studies how heterogeneities between individuals lead to social inequalities (Diewald & Faist, 2011; Lamont et al., 2014). Building on Diewald and Faist (2011), the study of inequality in volunteering relates to mechanisms of in- and exclusion at the entrance gate of volunteer organizations, yet expands our focus to generative processes of social inequalities in the organizational practice itself and among different actors (volunteers, staff members, beneficiaries), including prevailing perceptions and appraisals of heterogeneity (boundary making), the structure of organizational roles and positions with their respective rights and resources (hierarchization), the uneven access to resources and opportunities (social closure, opportunity hoarding), and the asymmetrical accumulation of benefits through cooperation and service provision (exploitation).


We thus solicit fresh theoretical and empirical work on both unequal access to volunteering, and dynamics of in- and exclusion in volunteering. We are particularly interested in studies that move beyond static theoretical and empirical models and seek to achieve a more differentiated and relational understanding of, first, the mobilization of resources and accumulation of benefits through volunteering, and second, processes of inter-subjective meaning-making that pertain to disparities in recognition and worth between individuals and groups in volunteer organizations (compare Lamont, 2018). 


More specifically, contributions to this special issue:

  • Are explicitly focused on advancing knowledge on the question of inequality in volunteering, covering social-structural and social-constructivist approaches to inequality, as well as attributional and relational dimensions of social inequality – with perceptions and appraisals being a central component of the production of inequality 
  • Offer theoretical refinements, challenges or alternatives to the resource/dominant status theories on the one hand, and theorization of more complex and dynamic processes occurring in volunteering on the other hand
  • Provide empirical insight in various mechanisms that lead to the genesis of inequalities out of heterogeneities, at multiple levels of analysis (such as country, sector, volunteer organization, volunteer group, or interactional setting), and clearly contribute to a better understanding of contextual circumstances between/within volunteer organizations and volunteer groups. This may include (but not limited to):
    • inequalities between different types of volunteers and volunteer activities; 
    • inequalities between volunteers across different organizational fields of volunteering; 
    • power dynamics between various actors (volunteers, beneficiaries, nonprofit employees, volunteer managers, etc.) in volunteering settings;
    • power relations manifested in or during third party interventions (state, market, education) in the field of volunteering

Submission will involve a two-stage process of abstract submission followed by full paper submission – both of which will be subject to review and feedback to the authors by the guest editors prior to the double-blind peer review by Voluntas. Final approval of all manuscripts accepted for the special issue rests with the editors-in-chief of Voluntas.


Proposed timeline:

·      May 31, 2019: submission of extended abstract

·      June 30, 2019: selection of abstracts by the guest editors

·      October 15, 2019: full paper submission to the guest editors

·      December 15, 2019: informal review by the guest editors

·      February 1, 2020: submission of the special issue for review to Voluntas



  • Diewald, M. & Faist, T. (2011). From heterogeneities to inequalities: Looking at social mechanisms as an explanatory approach to the generation of social inequalities. SFB 882 Working Paper Series, No. 1. Bielefeld: DFG Research Center (SFB).
  • Benenson, J., & Stagg, A. (2016). An asset-based approach to volunteering: Exploring benefits for low-income volunteers. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 45(IS), 131S-149S.
  • Eliasoph, N. (2011). Making Volunteers: Civic Life after Welfare’s End. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Grubb, A. & Henriksen, L.S. (2018). On the changing civic landscape in Denmark and its consequences for civic action. Voluntas,First Online: 04 December 2018.
  • Hustinx, L. & De Waele, E. (2015). Managing hybridity in a changing welfare mix: Everyday practices in an entrepreneurial nonprofit in Belgium. Voluntas, 26(5), 1666–1689.
  • Hustinx, L., Cnaan, R.A. & Handy, F. (2010). Navigating theories of volunteering: A hybrid map for a complex phenomenon. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour,40(4): 410-434.
  • Krinsky, J. & Simonet, M. (2017). Who cleans the park? Public work and urban governance in New York City. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Lamont, M. (2018). Addressing recognition gaps: Destigmatization and the reduction of inequality. American Sociological Review, 83(3), 419–444.
  • Lamont, M., Beljean, S. & Clair, M. (2014). What is missing? Cultural processes and causal pathways to inequality. Socio-Economic Review, 12(3): 573-608.
  • Ma, J., & Konrath, S. (2018). A century of Nonprofit Studies: Scaling the knowledge of the field. Voluntas, 29(6): 1139–1158.
  • Musick, M. & Wilson, J. (2008). Volunteers: A Social Profile.Indiana: Indiana University Press.
  • Ostrower, F. (2002). Trustees of Culture. Power, Wealth, and Status on Elite Arts Boards.Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Overgaard, C., Petrovski, E. & J. Hermansen (2018). Volunteer care workers: A case for challenging resource theories on volunteering, Journal of Civil Society, 14(2), 153-172.
  • Qvist, H-P. Y. (2018). Individual and Social Resources as Causes and Benefits of Volunteering: Evidence from Scandinavia.Doctoral Dissertation. Aalborg: Aalborg University.
  • Rogers, L. E. (2015). “Helping the helpless help themselves”: How volunteers and employees create a moral identity while sustaining symbolic boundaries within a homeless shelter. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 46(2),230–260.
  • Shachar, I. Y., Von Essen, J. & Hustinx, L. (2019). Opening up the ‘black box’ of ‘volunteering’: Tracing hybridization and purification mechanisms in volunteering research and promotion. Forthcoming in Administrative Theory & Praxis.
  • Smith, D. H. (1994). Determinants of voluntary association participation and volunteering: A literature review. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 23(3), 243–263.
  • Son, J. & Wilson, J. (2015). The psycho-social processes linking income and volunteering: Chronic financial strain and well-being. Sociological Forum, 30(4), 1059-1081.
  • Son, J. & Wilson, J. (2012). Using normative theory to explain the effect of religion and education on volunteering. Sociological Perspectives, 55(3), 473–499.
  • Wilson, J. (2012). Volunteerism research: A review essay. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 41(2) 176–212.
  • Wilson, J. (2000). Volunteering. Annual Review of Sociology, 26(1), 215–240.
  • Wilson, J., & Musick, M. (1997). Who cares? Toward an integrated theory of volunteer work. American Sociological Review, 62(5), 694–713.

Contact Us

International Society for Third-Sector Research
5801 Smith Avenue
McAuley Hall, Suite 245
Baltimore, MD 21209

Tel:   410-735-4221
Fax:   410-735-4201

About ISTR
Email ISTR
Mailing Lists Signup
Follow Us