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Palgrave Macmillan

Rediscovering Voluntary Action

The Beat of a Different Drum

ISBN 9781137029447
Publication Date November 2013
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) Paperback 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

In recent years, volunteering and voluntary organizations have come to play an increasingly important role in British society. But this recognition has come at the cost of losing sight of the distinctive characteristics of voluntary action and its claims to independence of thought and action. Drawing on 45 years' experience of working in and researching the sector, Colin Rochester shows how conventional wisdom about how voluntary action is understood and undertaken ignores a variety of important activities which have contributed so much to our quality of life and living conditions. He revisits the history of voluntary action; identifies the forces that have created modern misunderstandings and misrepresentations; explores the role of voluntary action and the forms it takes; and argues that the reality of voluntary activity is very different from the picture painted by contemporary researchers and practitioners. In a final chapter Rochester spells out the implications of his vision for research and practice.

Colin Rochester is Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, UK. He has previously co-authored Volunteering and Society in the 21st Century.

1. Introduction: Why The Theory and Practice of Voluntary Action Need Rethinking
2. Revisiting the Roots of Voluntary Action
3. The Invention of the Voluntary Sector and its Consequences
4. The Invention of Voluntary Work and its Consequences
5. A Perilous Partnership? Voluntary Action and the State
6. Selling Out? Voluntary Action and the Market
7. The Hegemony of the Bureaucratic Model
8. The Pressure from Within
9. Ownership and Control
10. What Are Voluntary Organisations For?
11. The Fallacies of Managerialism
12. Towards a 'Round Earth' Map of Volunteering
13. Dissenting Voices: The Case of the National Coalition for Independent Action
14. The Paradox of Sectorisation
15. Towards An Alternative Paradigm
16. The Implications of Rethinking Voluntary Action


"A breath of fresh air and clarity in the world of muddle and fudge that is today's voluntary sector" - Stephen Cook, Editor, Third Sector "The message of this new book is clear, vital, and most welcome" - Jon Van Tyl, Professor Emeritus of Urban Studies and Community Development, Rutgers University, USA
"This tour de force by one of Britain's leading thinkers on the subject reminds us that the range of voluntary action is far more diverse and variable than politicians, the public at large and even those who consider themselves part of the 'sector' understand or appreciate. The time is right to reassess and reassert its value." - Jay Kennedy, Director of Policy and Research, Directory of Social Change, UK
"This book offers a much needed critique of why voluntary action today takes the form it does. It is also a spirited call for activism and a timely reminder for us all to cherish the roots of voluntary action and not to let unwanted change creep up on us unawares." - Steven Howlett, University of Roehampton, UK
"Rediscovering Voluntary Action's analysis and critique of how volunteering and voluntary organisations have been reconceptualised in recent years are much-needed and indeed long overdue... [It] sets out its arguments and analysis clearly and logically and in accessible language. It is also a valuable reference text." - Youth and Society
"[Colin Rochester] is one of the most intelligent, articulate and rooted academics of the voluntary sector and writes with a passion and fluency that is always thought-provoking and never less than engaging. His latest tome, Rediscovering Voluntary Action, is no different, and I enjoyed it immensely." - Justin Davis Smith, Third Sector
"[This book] sets out the picture in crystal clear English, including the story of efforts by the state to incorporate voluntary and charitable activities within its own policy frameworks, and the willing compliance in this of all too many organisations and their leaderships. This is a significant academic contribution, drawing upon organisation and social theory, and voluntary sector research, as well as the author's very considerable past and current engagement in the sector" - Adrian Barritt, Chief Officer, Adur Voluntary Action
"It's wonderfully written and makes a great case for the non-instrumental source of much voluntary action" - Nicholas Acheson, Lecturer in Social Policy, University of Ulster, UK
"This is a detailed, yet engaging, vital read for anyone engaged with or for communities and their supporters. It provokes us away from trite and hackneyed 'answers'." - James Derounian, Principal Lecturer in Community Development and Local Governance, University of Gloucestershire, UK
"This is an authoritative and thought-provoking analysis of voluntary action by someone who knows his subject intimately but is able to see and articulate the bigger picture." - The Association of Charitable Organisations "This is an ambitious and accessible book about some of the most important challenges facing contemporary voluntary workers, volunteers, policy makers, and academic commentators . . . Colin Rochester has taken a committed and courageous route through some key issues and challenges in contemporary voluntary action. His provocative book deserves to be widely read in order to stimulate creative debate." - The Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sector "Raises important questions about the larger purpose and meaning of voluntary action in society, and challenges the dominant thinking which has focused on the voluntary sector and voluntary action in terms of policy impact and its role and effectiveness in delivering services . . . a useful resource for scholars, students, practitioners, and policy-makers who are interested in understanding voluntary action and civil society in Britain." - LSE Review of Books
"Rochester brings a passionate concern for the future of voluntary action, its distinctive qualities and, above all, its independence to the dilemmas that many voluntary organisations are struggling with." - Voluntary Sector Review
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