This studentship aims to advance understanding of the catalysts of associational life and the role of volunteering as a facilitator of this. It will be supervised jointly by Dr Daniela Sime and Prof Bernard Harris at the University of Strathclyde and Matthew Linning, Volunteer Scotland (www.volunteerscotland.net).
While the benefits of volunteering for individuals, including their well-being and mental health, are well documented, we know less about the relationship between individuals’ associational life and volunteering. It has been argued that the decline of neighbourhood-based opportunities for associational activities, such as sports clubs, faith groups and other types of cultural and voluntary organisation, and the decrease in levels of political trust are all detrimental to the health of civic society. Drawing on a qualitative design, which will include case studies with volunteers and non-volunteers across a range of settings in Scotland, including urban and rural areas, this project aims to contribute new knowledge in relation to the benefits of associational life for individuals and communities. The study will draw on existing theories of social capital and weak ties to examine the link between opportunities for associational life, social capital and individual and community health and wellbeing.
The specific research questions the study aims to answer are:
- What are the facilitating factors of associational life?
- How do attitudes to engagement in groups and voluntary work differ between generations and across urban and rural areas?
- What are the views of young and older people on how conditions for associational life have changed over time and more recently, as a result of austerity measures, for example?
- What lessons are there for enhanced associational life and what is the role, if any, of volunteering in this?
- What is the role of institutions in the civil society, including voluntary, public and private bodies, to support associational practices at community level?
Given the collaborative nature of the research, supervised jointly with Volunteer Scotland, the studentship will have a significant emphasis on policy and practice relevant activities. Findings from the research will be disseminated through papers at academic and practitioner conferences and user-friendly guides for practitioners to support volunteering and associational life and for volunteers, on the benefits of associational life. The student will take part in at least one academic conference a year, in addition to the practitioner-focused events. The student will have access to facilities and training in both organisations and will be expected to spend time in both settings, including the Stirling-based office of Volunteer Scotland.