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SP27 - Everyday rhythms of voluntary labour for change: beyond ‘volunteering for development’

Convened by Matt Baillie Smith, Bianca Fadel (Northumbria University, UK) and Moses Okech (Makerere University, Uganda)

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Traditional development trajectories and paths of development have long relied on the voluntary labour of diverse communities. From community health workers and first responders, to schemes promoting youth volunteering for skills development and international volunteering, development actors and institutions have promoted multiple forms of volunteering. But forms of voluntary labour that reflect neoliberal modes of citizenship and skills development, service delivery, and colonial models of ‘helping’ have been dominant. This has aligned research and practice around voluntary labour and development with geopolitical ambitions, cheap service delivery and the search for youth employment. The everyday rhythms of caring, giving time and working for each other have often been repurposed to meet orthodox development objectives. This has meant that ‘professional’ and ‘affluent’ volunteers who fit with existing development imaginaries and trajectories have been afforded greater recognition and power. Development actors have too often assumed the ready availability of local ‘free’ labour, but have frequently failed to recognise local volunteers as ‘experts’ and allowed volunteering to exploit vulnerabilities.

This seed panel invites contributions that critically interrogate how voluntary labour has been mobilised in development, or that explore the rhythms and dynamics of voluntary labour outside traditional framings. This might could include contexts such as community responses to Covid19, activist organising for the climate emergency and responses to displacement. We particularly welcome contributions that animate new approaches to volunteering that build from and conceptualise the everyday ways individuals and communities give their time and labour to change development, and contributions that (re)locate voluntary labour in the context of the diverse and specific histories of community-led action and care in particular places.