Volunteer care work: a comparative study of volunteers, cultures of care and gender in Australia and Denmark

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


There is a strong public trust in volunteers for the delivery of services across welfare states. Yet, the influence of the wider societal context on volunteering remains poorly understood. The objective of the thesis is to compare volunteer engagement in service delivery to the frail elderly, the very sick and the terminally ill. Australia and Denmark are selected as representatives of contrasting welfare systems, identified in both mainstream and gender-sensitive typologies.

To undertake this comparison, the study takes a “Total Social Organisation of Labour” in combination with a “Cultures of Care” approach. Within this framework, volunteer care work is explored in tension and interaction with other actors at three levels: between the non-profit sector, state, market and family (macro-level); between paid and unpaid groups of workers (meso-level); and, between individuals’ own paid and unpaid work (micro-level).

The study follows a comparative case study design which entails comparing and contrasting data collected through: interviews with and observation of volunteer care workers (n=41); interviews with staff and management in the hospices and respite organisations they work in (n= 15) and key representatives from other human service organisations (n=12); and survey data and existing literature.

The thesis advances our understanding of how welfare states influence volunteer care work and provides important insights into how gender, volunteer care work, paid work and welfare state structures relate. It finds that the volunteer involvement in service delivery is dependent on the preference for professionalised versus lay care, risk considerations, and the ability of staff to preserve paid work. Furthermore, it finds that volunteers explain their motivations with reference to their own paid work. The thesis therefore argues that the involvement of volunteers in care work within welfare states depends on the organisation of, boundaries around, conflicts over and access to paid work.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Macquarie University
  • Roskilde University
  • Fine, Michael, Supervisor
  • Boje, Thomas, Supervisor, External person
  • Wilson, Shaun, Supervisor
Award date15 Oct 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 13 Oct 2015


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