Please excuse the shameless West Wing quote in the title… It occurs to me that I haven’t really written much about my project and maybe I should remedy that. I’m going to write a three papers thesis (rather than the traditional 80,000 word tome delivered at the end of three or four years). My aim is to look at three different sets of longitudinal data (or possibly two longitudinal and one cross-sectional) and produce three papers covering different aspects of my ‘big’ question: is volunteering a political activity? I’m starting with the big national cohort studies. I was hoping to be able to construct individual change trajectories of volunteering – maybe some nice lines showing that people who volunteer more than average hours in their youth go on to volunteer more in middle age… Or better still, showing that people who volunteer many hours in their youth go on to look quite different in terms of their voting and campaigning behaviour than non-volunteers. Or, even better than that, showing that people who volunteer many hours in their youth go on to look exactly like otherwise similar non-volunteers in terms of their political behaviour. But there isn’t enough data for that. So… I’ll be looking for nice transition model instead. So far so good.
It’s also worth reflecting on how exactly that piece of analysis would help me to answer the question. I’d like to show what kind of activity volunteering is by comparing it to other activities. Does it look similar to or different from pure leisure activities? Like political campaigning? Like paid work for a service organisation? Do any early volunteers ‘replace’ their volunteering with other activities in later life (and vice versa)? Is volunteering a substitute for or a complement to leisure or political or service activities?
This approach also has the rather important advantage of getting me out from under the steaming pile of social capital literature… I’ve been reading a rather good book by Ben Fine called Theories of Social Capital: Researchers Behaving Badly (reviewed by Times Higher Ed). It provides a concise overview of social capital literature, a practical statement of research philosophy and a dig at Robert Putnam, all in one slim paperback package. Highly recommended (even though I haven’t finished reading it yet). Incidentally, if you haven’t figured out how I might have ended up under a steaming pile of social capital literature in the first place, read my ‘About‘ page.