A theoretical approach to the interrelation between volunteering and unemployment


In the following chapter I develop a theoretical approach as to how volunteering is related to individuals’ reaction to unemployment. Based on a life course theoretical approach (Elder 1985; Kohli 1985; Krüger 2003; Lévy 1996; Sackmann and Wingens 2001) and a model of social exclusion (Kronauer 2002), I conceptualise social exclusion as a sequence of transitions from inclusion to exclusion in relation to two dimensions of social inclusion. In order to get a deeper understanding of the processes of individual action facing unemployment and the potential role of volunteering, I further discuss psychological theories of action control over the life span (Brandtstädter 2001; Heckhausen and Schulz 1998). Two types of individual action control strategies related to volunteering are identified and discussed. Firstly, volunteering is conceptualised as a job search strategy. Volunteers who consider volunteering as a useful qualification or job search strategy, keep their engagement during unemployment or take-up new activities. Those who do not value volunteering for their job search give up their engagement and focus on formal qualification and job search strategies. Two mechanisms are deemed to explain the positive influence of volunteering on reemployment, namely the acquisition of human and social capital. Secondly, following the discussion on the “end of work society”, volunteering is discussed as an alternative activity to gainful employment. Following this discussion, it is expected that people keep their volunteering activities or take-up new engagement especially during later phases of unemployment and use it as an alternative source of social recognition.


Labour Market Social Capital Welfare State Social Exclusion Voluntary Engagement 
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  1. 4.
    Kronauer develops his own model of social exclusion vis-à-vis Luhmann’s system theoretical approach. For an overview on his critique of the system theoretical approach, see Kronauer (1998).Google Scholar
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    Other theoretical conceptualisations have stressed the productive nature of volunteering and discussed its relation to other forms of paid and unpaid work (Erlinghagen 2000b). Since my research aims at understanding the role of volunteering for labour market re-integration or as a central source of social integration, I shall however focus in the following theoretical discussion on the social integrative function of volunteering.Google Scholar
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    Note that the term “sequence” is used differently by other theorists. Abbott (1997) uses it e.g. to describe entire trajectories.Google Scholar
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    Krüger (2003: 38f./44) identifies three “logics” which lead to gendered life courses in Germany: (a) the attainment logic, which means that the German labour market expects individuals to successfully progress through education, labour-market positions and finally retirement, emphasizing status attainment; (b) the tandem logic of the labour market and the family, which favours unequal private arrangements for work sharing between men and women for example by promoting family wages (in male-dominated labour market segments) as integral part of official income policies or by daily work timetables of services such as kindergartens and schools; (c) the backup logic in intergenerational life-course settings where the state only assumes responsibility when private provisions fail.Google Scholar
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    The analytical category of the ‘role’ has been prominently developed by Parsons (1939). For a good overview on the feminist critique, see Gottschall (2000: 88ff.).Google Scholar
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    A classical approach has for example been presented by Lazarus (1981), who assumes that a person who faces a stressful situation goes through different stages. In a “primary appraisal” the person evaluates whether the situation is important for him or herself or not and whether it has supposedly positive or negative effects on one’s well-being. In a “secondary appraisal” the person evaluates on which personal and social resources he or she can rely and which coping strategies are available. In the following “operation” phase, the person will seek to decrease the stress level. Coping strategies can be directed to the outside environment or to the own person. In a fourth “reappraisal” phase the person evaluates whether the stressful situation has been successfully coped with. If so, the process ends. If not, the process restarts again. The theory has however some shortcomings: First, it leaves open how a person decides between coping strategies directed to the outside environment or to the own person. Second, institutional constraints on a person’s decision for a certain coping strategy are implicitly mentioned in the form of resources on which a person can draw; however, Lazarus does not offer a systematic approach to the distribution of these resources and how they impact on the individual’s decision.Google Scholar
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    In motivational psychological terms this type of control strategy can be linked to volitional strategies. Motivational psychology generally differentiates between motivation in the sense of an intention for action, and volition in the sense of concrete actions in order to achieve the chosen goal. Issues of volition can also be labelled as action control issues. Theories of volition aim at explaining why people transfer their intentions into action (Heckhausen 1989).Google Scholar
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    A similar theoretical model of action control strategies has been suggested by Brandstädter (2001). While the first two processes he suggests are similar to Heckhausen and Schulz’ differentiation between primary and secondary control, the third process adds an additional dimension. Brandstädter (2001: 144f.) has suggested a model which discusses three processes by which inconsistencies between normative self-images and actual self-images can be avoided, eliminated or reduced (his socalled AAI model). The three dimensions are: (1) Assimilation: The individual seeks to change his or her own development and action in order to come closer to the normative sketches of self or life. (2) Accommodation: Normative sketches of self or life are sought to be changed according to actual circumstances, such as available resources. (3) Immunisation: Self-images are defended against contradicting evidence. No perception of a discrepancy between normative and actual self is allowed. Although this third dimension might be at stake with some people facing unemployment, I am not able to trace it empirically.Google Scholar
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    Elsewhere in the same book Beck argues that volunteering (in combination with a basic income) might be an alternative activity to employment (Beck 1999: 129). I shall come back to this argument in a later section of this chapter.Google Scholar
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    Without referring to it, this argument is based on a feminist research perspective developed during the 1970s and early 1980s which stresses the importance of widening the notion of work, including not only employment but also housework and family work. It was a critique of Marx’ class theory which was solely based on employment and ignored unpaid work in the household as the basis for the reproduction of the workforce (for a detailed critique, see Gottschall 2000: 141ff.).Google Scholar
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    According to Beck’s concept, ‘civic work’ is not paid but rewarded. Only in cases where a person does not have any other income, does he or she receive ‘civic money’. This argument also supports the idea that volunteering is seen as a source of social recognition. Since Beck explicitly stresses that the sums which are currently paid to social assistance and unemployment benefit recipients should be used to finance ‘civic money’, one can conclude that the amount which would be paid to ‘civic workers’ would be similar to the amount of social assistance. In order not to hinder the re-integration in regular employment, its amount is likely to be similar to the unemployment benefit or social assistance receipt (Beck 1999).Google Scholar
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    Krüger (1995a) uses the notion of organisation instead of institution. For the sake of clarity, I shall follow the differentiation of institutionalism and differentiate between institutions and organisations. Institutions are defined as man-made restrictions of interactions which limit uncertainty and create guidelines for human behaviour. Organisations are defined as groups of individuals which pursue a common goal, e.g. corporations or legal entities (North 1990).Google Scholar
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    She identifies three institutions which she considers most important for shaping male and female life courses in Germany. (1) The organisation of the German occupational training system with its differentiation between the so-called “dual system” of vocational training and a school-based training system. (2) Family-related interruptions of working life together with context institutions (Anliegerinstitutionen) such as the kindergarten, school and homes for the elderly which presuppose in Germany a traditional division of labour between partners which make available a flexible person at home who can do all the unpaid care work not provided by the state. (3) The gender specificity of professions (Krüger 1995b: 146f.).Google Scholar
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    The three most important interrelations between lives which Drobnic identifies are: (1) Effects of children on women’s employment patterns which is especially negative for married mothers. (2) The impact of spouse’s resources on women’s work which is characterised by strong homogonous tendencies and a high tendency of women whose husband has a high education and a good occupational position to leave their employment for child rearing. (3) The retirement decisions of men in “traditional couples” are dependent on household income and wealth. The higher men’s share in household income and the larger the household, the less likely they are to withdraw from the labour force. Generally, Drobnic (2003: 273) thus concludes a highly gendered nature of interdependencies of lives.Google Scholar
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    The concept of the external labour market refers to theories of labour market segmentation. The prominent differentiation is between internal and external labour markets. While internal labour markets function like “classic” markets in the neoclassical sense, internal labour markets offer career ladders either in a particular firm or within an occupational group. A similar difference is presented by Marsden (1990) who differentiates between occupational and internal labour markets. While the former are segmented along nationally recognised occupations, the segmentation in internal labour markets works via the internal hierarchy of firms. Gottschall (2000) argues that this differentiation is not suited to describe women’s labour markets in Germany. Instead, she suggests the additional segment of the professional labour market which cuts across the typology of internal and external labour markets.Google Scholar
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    Flap argues that the emergence of the welfare state and the provision of social rights abolished much of the former value of social networks. Classical social capital authors argue in a similar direction when they claim that technological changes, the growth of the welfare state and the rising number of large organisations providing services that were once produced in the family and the neighbourhood leads to a decline of social capital (on the macro level) (Putnam 1995). However, the latter argument is based on a macro-level understanding of social capital (as a property of communities) which does not help if one aims to understand the role of volunteering or social capital (as an individual property) for labour market allocation processes in different countries.Google Scholar
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    Pfau-Effinger’s (2000) most important contribution to the discussion is the introduction of cultural norms in the typology of welfare states. She has coined the notion of gender arrangement which includes institutional as well as the cultural factors (gender order vs. gender culture). This contribution is especially important in cases where we observe contradictions between institutional and cultural aspects of the gender arrangement, such as in East Germany after unification.Google Scholar
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    As Crompton (1999: 205) points out the dual-earner/female part-time carer arrangement cannot be interpreted as the overcoming of the male-breadwinner model. Instead, it is a modification of the traditional model but is not associated with substantial change in gender relations.Google Scholar
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    A similar classification has been suggested by Schunter-Kleemann (1992) who classifies six patriarchal welfare regimes. Of special interest is how a welfare system organises mother’s labour market participation. In countries with “family or marriage related patriachism” (similar to Esping-Andersen’s conservative welfare regimes and Dingeldey’s male breadwinner model) such as Germany, women are encouraged to leave the labour market for several years in order to assume caring responsibilities. Generous leave regulations, a vast lack of public child care, especially for under-three-year olds, collective agreement regulations, child-raising allowance and tax laws favouring one-earner married couples encourage women to interrupt their full-time employment at the birth of the first child. In countries with “market shaped patriachism” (similar to Esping-Andersen’s liberal welfare regimes and Dingeldey’s individual model) like Great Britain, women are institutionally “encouraged” to contribute to the household income. Minimal maternity leave arrangements, such as in Britain, lead to women’s almost continuous participation in the labour market, albeit mostly part-time. Schunter-Kleemann suggests a separate category for “countries based on social patriachism in transition to market shaped patriachism” (like Poland, Hungary, Eastern Germany after unification). These countries are close to countries with “market shaped patriachism” in several respects: They are characterised by a higher proportion of female (full-time) employment, lower wages (for men and women) as well as considerably more public child care provision. Consequently, in these countries, the alternative status of a homemaker is less attractive than in countries with “family or marriage related patriachism” such as West Germany.Google Scholar
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    There are however strong indications that the process of adaptation in East Germany, regarding women’s labour market participation, does not run as smoothly as expected. East German women continue to have a strong subjective attachment to gainful full-time employment as compared to their Western counterparts (Nickel 1997; Zukunftskommission der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung 1998). Kreckel and Schenk (1998) stress that the wide-spread rejection of part-time work is a view shared by East German men and women, i.e. that cultural values are shared by both genders. Moreover, continuing lower wages in East Germany make it financially desirable that both partners work full-time. Based on the finding that younger age groups in West Germany tend to opt for the ‘dual earner model’ as in East Germany, the authors conclude that rather West Germany is “lagging behind”.Google Scholar

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