Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


This thesis seeks to explain how young Irish adults are capable of achieving identities as episodic volunteers. Participation in civil society in Ireland is changing, with new forms of volunteering emerging (Donoghue et al 2006). Issues of identity and identity construction appear to be symptomatic of these changes (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002). This research focuses upon young Irish adults identity work as they discursively construct their episodic volunteering (Macduff 2005). The research uses a discourse analysis lens (Wetherell 1998; Wetherell and Edley 1998, 1999; Edley and Wetherell 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999; Edley 2001). It is based upon 17 intensive interviews with young Irish adults, aged between 21 and 26, who volunteered for an Irish civil society organisation. The research also draws upon social capital theory. The analysis of the interview data has resulted in the emergence of eight conventional notions of the volunteer engagement, used by the young Irish adults to construct and achieve their identities as volunteers. It has also allowed for the development of a “parsimonious model” (Leonard-Barton 1992) of volunteer identity work and social capital generation and use. The research finds that: the young Irish adults engage in episodic volunteering as a reflexive identity/biographical project; volunteering is possible because of the availability of a transitional, relatively risk-free, moment in their lives; the volunteer identity is an acceptable deviation from, and adjunct to, a socially prescribed life course. The study points to how the pure episodic volunteering organisation provides a space in which an identity/biographical project, congruent with the reflexive project of the self, may be achieved. The research makes manifest that the young Irish adults engage in identity work, in particular relationships, in order to generate and use social capital and thereby achieve the identity of volunteer. It points to the effect of this as the ignition of intense bursts of social capital generation in Irish society.


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