Skip to main content

Voluntarism and Citizenship: A Response to Lena Dominelli


This article responds to Dominelli’s contribution by mapping three lines of discussion. The first relates to the issue of how to understand voluntary work with regard to the realization of citizenship. The authors argue that this understanding depends on the way citizenship is conceived. Whereas a rights-based conception of citizenship focuses on issues of equal access to voluntary work, a duty-oriented notion of citizenship tends to see voluntarism as embedded in an educational strategy, alongside professionalized social work. The authors plead for an alternative understanding of voluntary work and social work as joined partners in practices of ‘learning democracy’. The second line of discussion revolves around the relation between social and political dimensions of citizenship. With Dominelli, the authors point out how the obscuring of the political dimension risks to nurture societal discourses that put pressure on the welfare state. The third point relates to the difficulties in positioning voluntary work with regard to professional social work. One of these difficulties is the tendency to over-romanticize voluntary work as warm, informal, generous, while giving an exclusively technical reading of social work professionalization.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Bagilhole, B. (1996). Tea and sympathy or teetering on social work? An investigation of the blurring of the boundaries between voluntary and professional care. Social Policy and Administration, 30(3), 189–205.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bouverne-De Bie, M., Roose, R., Coussée, F., & Bradt, L. (2014). Learning democracy in social work. In lining is not ok. Not a new aline.

  3. Buffet, P. (2013, July 26). The charitable-industrial complex, New York Times.

  4. Butler, I., & Pugh, R. (2004). The politics of social work research. In R. Lovelock, K. Lyons, & J. Powell (Eds.), Reflecting on social work (pp. 56–72). Aldershot: Avebury.

  5. Carey, G., Braunack-Mayer, A., & Barraket, J. (2009). Spaces of care in the third sector: Understanding the effects of professionalization. Health, 13(6), 629–646.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Dillenburger, K., Fargas, M., & Akhonzada, R. (2008). Evidence-based practice: An exploration of the effectiveness of voluntary sector services for victims of community violence. British Journal of Social Work, 38(8), 1630–1647.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. la Cour, A., & Høljund, H. (2008). Voluntary social work as a paradox. Acta Sociologica, 51(1), 41–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Lorenz, W. (2004). Towards a European paradigm of social work studies in the history of modes of social work and social policy in Europe. Dresden: PHD Fakultät Erziehungswissenshaften der Technische Universität Dresden.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Lorenz, W. (2014). Social services and their educational mandate in the modern nation state. In G. Biesta, M. De Bie, & D. Wildemeersch (Eds.), Civic learning, democratic citizenship and the public sphere (pp. 29–41). Dordrecht: Springer Science + Business Media.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  10. Maeseele, T., Roose, R., & Bouverne-De Bie, M. (2014). Voluntariness as legitimation for social work interventions: A case study in flemish homelessness care. International Social work.doi:10.1177/0020872814531301.

  11. Marshall, T. H. (1950). Citizenship and social class and other essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Marston, G., & McDonald, C. (2012). Getting beyond ‘Heroic Agency’ in conceptualising social workers as policy actors in the twenty-first century. British Journal of Social Work, 42(6), 1022–1038.

  13. Payne, M. (2005). The origins of social work: Continuity and change. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Roets, G., Roose, R., Claes, L., Vandekinderen, C., Van Hove, G., & Vanderplasschen, W. (2012). Reinventing the employable citizen: A perspective for social work. British Journal of Social Work, 42(1), 94–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Roose, R., Verschelden, G., Vettenburg, N., & Vanthuyne, T. (2012). Working with volunteers in victim support: Mirror or camouflage? International Social Work, 55(2), 266–278.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maria De Bie.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

De Bie, M., Roose, R. Voluntarism and Citizenship: A Response to Lena Dominelli. Found Sci 21, 399–403 (2016).

Download citation


  • Citizenship
  • Learning democracy
  • Social work
  • Volunteer work