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Volunteering, activism and civil society

The roles of activists and volunteers as development and humanitarian actors is a significant research theme of the Centre for International Development. Our work addresses the activities of local volunteers in conflict settings, the roles of local volunteers in health promotion, the activities of international volunteers from global North and South, and the relationships between different types of volunteers and volunteering. It addresses a range of key themes, including volunteer professionalization, the relationships between volunteering, citizenship and activism, diaspora volunteering, volunteering and learning, and volunteering and emotion.

Staff from the Centre collaborate with, and conduct research about, a wide range of civil society organisations, from international agencies and organisations, to national and international NGOs, and local grassroots community organisations. Our research explores the changing nature of civil society in relation to development, as well as critically analysing the nature and impact of contemporary activism across the global South, focusing on examples such as dalit activism in India, anti-mining activism in the Andes, and the rights of small-scale fishers in South Asia.

We work in partnership with a range of key global volunteering organisations, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), Swedish Red Cross, and have contributed to a range of key recent global reports and documents on volunteering, humanitarianism and development, including the IFRC Global Review on Volunteering and 2015 World Disasters Report.

Recent projects in this area include the Volunteers in Conflict and Emergencies Initiative (ViCE): a collaborative project with the Swedish Red Cross using a listening study approach to understanding the lives and experiences of volunteers in conflict and humanitarian crisis settings in 7 countries (; a project on South Volunteering and development (in partnership with VSO); a Leverhulme Trust Fellowship participatory photography project with women activists in Peru; Newton Fund research exploring activism and volunteering around livelihoods and sanitation in Delhi; a project analysing embodied aspects of activism and resistance in Palestine; research on grassroots health promoters in Peru; AHRC/ESRC funded research on faith and international volunteering, and an ESRC Seminar Series on ‘Activism, Volunteering and Citizenship’.


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