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Over the last month, many of the stands and activities available to new and returning students at University and College event fairs will have had a voluntary aspect. Most Universities run their own voluntary schemes/RAG and there are a host of corporate organisations looking to recruit student volunteers for a summer or year abroad, as well as local organisations and charities that try and recruit new students as volunteers. Volunteer recruitment and retention has been boosted this year by the 2011 European Year of Volunteering campaign. However, in the UK, there remains a disjuncture between the role of voluntarism in the coalition government’s ‘big society’ vision and the realties of auserity cuts and their impact on communities and charities. Indeed, these issues around voluntarism and the lifecourse have been highlighted in diverging opinions expressed at this week’s Conservative Party conference.
Two articles in October’s issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers reflect the increasing interest in the geographies of volunteering and youth voluntarism in particular. Volunteer tourism, gap years and charity work are playing a more central part in the student experience and geographers are examining these recent trends in terms of broader theorisations of youth identities, lifecourse transitions, globalisation and the ‘big society’. In his Transactions paper, Andrew Jones (2011) draws on data with young people involved in a range of overseas volunteer placements as well as exploring how corporate recruiters understand “the value (or otherwise) of international volunteering” (p.530). Matt Baillie-Smith and Nina Laurie’s paper (2011) also examines the geographies of international volunteering but with a focus on citizenship, development imaginaries and neoliberal ideas of professionalisation. Indeed, their paper explores “discourses and practices of citizenship, professionalisation and partnership as they produce and are produced through contemporary international volunteering” (p.545). Both of these papers highlight how the complex spatialities of volunteering can illuminate broader economic and political processes, as well bringing young people firmly into the spotlight in a shifting landscape of voluntarism and philanthropy.
Read M. Baillie-Smith and N. Laurie (2011) International volunteering and development: global citizenship and neoliberal professionalisation today Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36 (4): 545-559
This week’s news has been dominated by the British General Election and the (widely predicted) hung parliament. As party leaders begin to negotiate with each other and their members, there is still great uncertainty about the next Prime Minister and the composition of the next government. Whilst there are many talking points, the issue emerging as a key factor in any prospective coalitions is electoral reform. In The Guardian yesterday, Polly Toynbee stressed the importance of electoral reform and the prospective coalitions on the table. The protests in London yesterday lobbying the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg on the issue of electoral reform also demonstrates public concerns over how elections take place and issues of representation. In the midst of uncertainty and change, a more everyday geography of protest and debate is taking place, for example this sign photographed in Hackney, East London.
In an article for Geography Compass, Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie describe elections as a “geographer’s delight”. Through examining British general elections over the last sixty years, they highlight the “inherent geographical activity” of elections. Indeed, electoral geography has been a cornerstone of political geography and remains an engaging area of current research, particularly with developments in GIS and mapping. As the story of this election continues to unfold, geographers should be well placed to contribute to discussions on the emerging events, and particularly on the geographies of electoral reform.
Read Polly Toynbee in The Guardian on the issue of electoral reform.