UCL Anthropology


Discussing 'Volunteer Economies: The Politics and Ethics of Voluntary Labour in Africa'

24 April 2019, 5:00 pm–7:00 pm

Volunteer Economies The Politics and Ethics of Voluntary Labour in Africa by Ruth Prince and Hannah Brown

The next meeting of the Political and Moral Economies of Voluntarism Reading Group will be discussing the book by Ruth Prince and Hannah Brown (2016).

Event Information

Open to





Tess Altman – UCL Anthropology


UCL Anthropology Staff Common Room
14 Taviton Street
United Kingdom

Reading and Research Group (RRG): Political and Moral Economies of Voluntarism

At this meeting of the Political and Moral Economies of Voluntarism RRG, we will be discussing Volunteer Economies: The Ethics and Politics of Voluntary Labor in Africa by Ruth Prince and Hannah Brown (2016). This edited volume presents diverse ethnographic and historical case studies of volunteering in Africa, focusing on moral and political dimensions. In particular, it draws attention to the links between volunteering and neoliberalism, and volunteering and colonialism. Themes to consider include: citizenship, power relations, inequality, neoliberal and postcolonial subjectivities, labour regimes. Full text available online through UCL Library.

There is no expectation to read the whole volume; reading the Introduction/Conclusion and one or two chapters would be ideal. This RRG is targeted towards postgraduate students and staff in Anthropology as well as in disciplines engaging with similar themes (e.g. geography, development), but all are welcome! Each session is a stand-alone so feel free to come along to one or all. Refreshments will be provided.UCL Anthropology

Moodle page: https://moodle.ucl.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=45401. External participants can guest access the page using guest password which is also RRG.

Facebook group: Reading Group Political and Moral Economies of Voluntarism: https://www.facebook.com/groups/209776096266936/

About the RRG:

This RRG focuses on the role of volunteers in humanitarian and neoliberal settings. While anthropologists have critically engaged with humanitarian and neoliberal projects, the role of volunteers in such endeavours is only beginning to receive sustained ethnographic attention. This reading group takes up Liisa Malkki’s call for more studies of ‘the humanitarian subject characterized by a desire to help’. It also seeks to bring into dialogue literature on neoliberal discourses of volunteering with the critical anthropology of humanitarianism. While volunteers are increasingly called upon to fill gaps left in social service provision by austerity measures and the roll back of the welfare state, they are also attracted to volunteering in humanitarian settings through a desire to alleviate suffering, feel connected and find a sense of meaning. What happens when volunteers deliver crucial services while seeking a profound experience? What does it look like when states outsource responsibility to volunteers? Are volunteers ethical subjects? Can volunteering be viewed as a technique of self-making? What kinds of volunteer-volunteer and volunteer-recipient relationships form? The focus on voluntarism in neoliberal and humanitarian contexts opens up possibilities for addressing anthropological themes of giving, reciprocity, care and affect alongside examining the subjectivities produced by political and moral economies of voluntarism.

While in 2018 we focused on reading monographs about volunteering, this year we will read edited volumes concerned with the contemporary institutional contexts in which volunteering often occurs: NGOs and the humanitarian aid industry. We will meet monthly over the course of Term 2.