Study structure

Continuity and change: overall study structure

Our project explores volunteering between 1981-2012, a timeframe which includes a period of recession and publicservice cuts until the mid-1990s, followed by a period of relative prosperity in the mid-1990s-2008, and then by the current downturn. We will look for changes and continuities in volunteering during these different periods, exploring how individuals’ motivations to volunteer have changed over time. Have there been changes in the socio-economic characteristics of volunteers over time? How have volunteers balanced paid and unpaid work? Do today’s volunteers feel that they have further capacity to volunteer, if required to do so? What views have individuals held, on who should meet public need – the state, the local community, or the individual? How have these changed over time?

Answers to these questions need to be based on longitudinal data that follow individuals over time. Ideally we need to  provide estimates that are representative of the population as well as detailed insights into individuals’ views. To meet these needs, we are proposing an innovative mixed-methods approach. Examining data from the Mass Observation
Project, where people freely write on topics such as voluntary unpaid work, welfare, volunteering and the state. This gives rich longitudinal information that provide us with insight into how and why people change or continue with particular view points and volunteering behaviours.

We will complement this qualitative data with longitudinal survey data sets. The analysis will include panel data that ask the same questions about volunteering of a representative sample of people, following them over a number of years, and repeated cross-sectional survey data that ask questions about how people feel about provision of welfare benefits, and the role of the government in meeting particular social needs at a particular point in time. These population-level quantitative data give us a good understanding of change and continuity in volunteering. This reuse and bringing together of qualitative writing and survey data represents a new way of looking at volunteering. It also represents a new way of thinking about how we use data, and may be of value to others researching in the field of sociology, social policy or contemporary British social history.

The project will synthesise these various data sources, placing them in dialogue with one another to track individual experiences and understandings of voluntarism over the given timeframe, and to identify aggregate views and attitudes on voluntarism.

The proposed research will consist of three iterative, rather than consecutive, parts. We will bring into dialogue the practices underpinning synchronic and diachronic analyses of qualitative data with those underpinning cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses of quantitative data. The diachronic approach and longitudinal analyses will provide understandings of change and continuity in individuals’ perspectives, activities and discourses over time, contextualising these within the periods of economic prosperity and austerity, as well as within government policy on welfare provision and civil society. The synchronic approach and cross-sectional analyses will focus on the aggregate attitudes and behaviours in the samples and compare these across specific points in time, tracking collective shifts or continuities, rather than individual trajectories.

How the qualitative and quantitative datasets complement each other

Longitudinal_data_sourcesMOA: Mass Observation Archive

BHPS/US: British Household Panel Survey/Understanding Society

GHS/GLS: General Household Survey/General Lifestyle Survey

BSA: British Social Attitudes Survey


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