Accepted paper:

'This is the way we do it': enacting efficient charity


Catherine Trundle (Victoria University of Wellignton )

Paper short abstract:

This paper shows that, beyond the dichotomy of altruism and self-interest within volunteering, there often exists a strong focus on process and technical procedure, on means rather than ends, which can exclude the needs of charity recipients.

Paper long abstract:

This paper takes as its scene the weekly food bank at the American Church in Florence, Italy, where regular volunteers distribute food to 'the needy.' Based on long-term fieldwork, it explores how middle-class American immigrants interacted with economically and politically marginal immigrants from developing states, with a particular focus on how the volunteers experienced being involved in this charity work. In attempting to move beyond the dichotomy of self-interest and altruism as motivating forces for volunteering, this paper considers how following correct process, the smooth execution of technical procedure, becomes the moral imperative to act. Looking at how notions of routine, efficiency and systematic organisation enter into the running of the foodbank, this paper shows how the desire to carry out charity correctly comes to supplant desires to meet the diverse and unbounded needs of charity recipients. Within such an environment, charity recipients attempt to insert themselves, as unique cases of neediness, into the centre of such interactions, to refashion the process into one more flexible and beneficial to their own needs. From a humanist perspective, I argue that this aims to create intersubjective moments of common ground and obligation between the volunteers and recipients that recognises human agency and individual life histories.

panel W101
Getting behind 'no man is an island' phrase: volunteering between altruism and self-interest