As the social and political significance of voluntarism has grown in Western states since the 1980s, social scientists have increasingly recognised the voluntary sector as an important focus for research. As a consequence, we now have a better understanding – at a variety of spatial scales – of the nature and dynamics of the community and voluntary sector. Research has documented the sector's diversity in particular national settings (for example, Kendall and Knapp, 1996; Anheier and Seibel, 2001; Lyons, 2001), while also looking at the changing nature of charitable giving (for example, Andreoni et al, 2003; Bowman, 2004; Charities Aid Foundation, 2004; Sargeant and Lee, 2004). Studies have tracked the experiences of voluntary organisations engaged in contracts for service provision, noting the tensions and difficulties associated with many of these arrangements (Deakin, 1996; Lewis, 1996; Morison, 2000; Majumdar, 2004; NCVO, 2004; Phillips and Levasseur, 2004). Recent efforts to achieve more egalitarian, even-handed forms of partnership between the state and voluntary sector have also been noted (Home Office, 1998; Welsh Office, 1998; Ministry of Social Policy, 2001).
In this volume, our aim has been to draw out one particular strand of this scholarship – research shaped by geographical perspectives – and to demonstrate what this approach might bring to the work conducted within disciplines such as sociology, social policy and political science. Most contributors to this book actively work within the discipline of geography, while others have had their work shaped by its conceptual and methodological debates. In this conclusion, we reflect on their work as a means of responding to two main questions. Firstly, what do the chapters indicate about a geographical approach to voluntarism? We address this question in terms of analytical perspectives. Secondly, what does this geographically inflected research tell us about contemporary landscapes of voluntarism? This is about material trends and developments within particular cities, regions and nations. We finish with some suggestions for future research.
In relation to other social scientific scholarship, a geographical perspective on voluntarism has a number of dimensions. At a general level, we can reiterate that human geography is a discipline characterised by an attentiveness to the complex ways in which social, political and economic processes are played out within – and indeed modified by – the terrains of particular localities and regions.