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Beyond choice: ‘Thick’ volunteering and the case of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-109
Number of pages25
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


This article problematizes the dominant assumption in the literature on volunteer work that it is undertaken primarily as a matter of individual choice. Using findings from a qualitative study of volunteers at the not-for-profit organization, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, it is shown that volunteering exists within a dense web of social relations, especially familial and communal relations, so that volunteering is recursively constituted by structure and agency. The concept of ‘thick volunteering’ is developed to denote how in some cases these social relations, especially when the work involved is dangerous, may make volunteering especially significant.

    Research areas

  • agency, charities/not-for-profit organizations, dangerous work, Royal National Lifeboat Institution(RNLI), structure, thick volunteering, volunteering, volunteerism

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