Charting the Landscape of European Youth Voluntary Activities

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For a host of sometimes less than clear reasons, the subject of “voluntary activities” or “voluntary service”, especially on the part of young people, has become an increasing focus of political, professional and, indeed, academic attention. There are, of course, certainly in some parts of Europe, long traditions of such commitment; conversely, in other places, it is a relatively new phenomenon and certainly there is widespread evidence of new forms of such “participation”. It is, however, complex territory, with many questions not yet even asked, let alone resolved. It is territory which is essentially about a relationship between the individual and the wider society, with a range of mediating factors and forces in between. “Voluntary activities” by young people lie within a framework which comprises a complex mosaic of conflated, often confusing and sometimes contradictory concepts and terminology: civilian service, community service, the non-profit sector of the economy, and NGO activity. These ideas and debates are often connected but are rarely co-terminus. The language informing these debates are what Kate Stanley refers to as “expressions fraught with difficulty”, and the landscape of discussion is what Maria Laura Sudulich depicts as a “variegated universe”. Defining in any precise way what exactly is meant by “voluntary activities”, “volunteering”, “volunteerism” or “voluntaryism” is, as Regine Schröer reminds us, a major challenge. Is the whole momentum behind promoting and encouraging youth involvement in voluntary activities in fact what Lind (reported by Stanley) suggests may be a “solution in search of a problem”? Or are new and renewed commitments to supporting such initiatives premised soundly on their value and contribution to “personal development”, the securing of a more vibrant “civil society”, questions of “employability”, or something else? The chapters in this book are drawn from a Council of Europe and European Commission partnership seminar held in Budapest in the summer of 2004 which sought to interrogate the myriad of issues which surround and permeate the theme of “voluntary activities” by young people, in particular whether or not, and the ways in which voluntary engagement contributes, as Gerd Mutz and Eva Schwimmbeck suggest, to the development of civil society and citizenship.

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