2022 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference

Politics, Partnerships, and Power: Raising Questions for Civil Society

Thursday 15 – Friday 16 September 2022

Location: Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK

Book here: https://store.shu.ac.uk/conferences-and-events/central-services/events/voluntary-sector-and-volunteering-research-conference-2022

New researchers stream: https://www.vssn.org.uk/2022-new-researcher-stream/

Questions? See our FAQ page or email vsvrconference@gmail.com

13 May 2022 Deadline for abstract submissions
27 July 2022 Early bird rate ends
25 August 2022 Deadline for full paper submissions
15-16 September 2022 The conference

Conference theme   

Politics, Partnerships, and Power: Raising Questions for Civil Society

As we begin to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, civil society organisations (including those in the voluntary, community, social enterprise, and faith sectors) are contemplating the longer term implications of the triple threats they have faced in resources, operations, and demand. Demand for charities’ support in the aftermath, is likely to be higher than ever. While some volunteers are feeling burnt out, others are considering their return to activities that were put on pause.

The pandemic has highlighted longstanding differences in views over the roles and responsibilities of the state, civil society and business. When announcing £750 million in support for charities in April 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak referred to the ‘gentleness of charities in our lives’. Though a significant sum, to some this level of support was inadequate and signalled a misunderstanding of how integral voluntary action is to addressing a variety of social needs across the UK.  At a local level, voluntary organisations and mutual aid groups were often both the first responders to the crisis and the last line of defence against gaps in state and market provision. At the same time, the pandemic has highlighted some of the challenges of voluntary provision, particularly in relation to equity and resource insufficiency.

Alongside tensions within the sector about how it should work to tackle unequal power relations, both internally and within wider society, civil society seems to find itself in a rather uneasy place in 2022. Politically, the environment for certain parts of UK civil society has become more complicated. The limited success of the #nevermoreneeded campaign has made it seem to some that civil society needs a closer relationship with the state than in the past, whilst others see a commitment to independence and values as a priority. At various points, discussions of charities have been drawn into a ‘culture war’ discourse, over values of institutions such as the National Trust, and attacks on LGBTQ+-focused organisations. There has been little central government-led strategic thinking as to what the plan for civil society is, exemplified by ructions at the Charity Commission and vagueness over civil society’s role in ‘levelling up’ and localism.

But among the hugely difficult circumstances, the pandemic and other changes in funding landscapes seem to be inspiring new models of partnership and innovation in how to tackle social problems. The unprecedented ‘unsettlement’ brought by the pandemic meant that some found local government increasingly open to new ways of working, and state-voluntary-business partnerships seem to be providing opportunities to bypass ideological impasses. The growth and continued investment in the community business sector in the UK is another example of how the future may incorporate more hybrid ways of acting.

This conference invites participants to explore these issues. The Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference 2022 is organised by the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN), in partnership with Voluntary Action Sheffield (VAS), and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). It will provide a unique opportunity for academics, policy makers and practitioners from the UK and further afield to come together to share findings and discuss the implications of research for civil society.

Our Conference Track invites research contributions focused on ‘politics, partnerships and power’. This could include how civil society is dealing with issues of political pressure and conflict, revealing and challenging unequal power structures between sectors, and also how new partnerships are emerging between individual citizens, civil society, local, regional and national government, and business, in order to tackle social problems. We welcome papers that explore topics such as power relations within and between organisations; the role of ideology in voluntary action; government-civil society relations and policy environments; partnerships and innovation in the delivery of services; critiques and/or defences of philanthropy and corporate giving; and many others.

Aims and streams

The conference aims to:

  • Contribute to evidence and theory-building in the field
  • Develop emerging research ideas
  • Inform and be informed by the work of practitioners
  • Inform and influence policy

We welcome submissions for individual papers, panel sessions and workshops. We are particularly keen to receive proposals for the Conference Theme, but also welcome papers that address any issues relevant to volunteering and the voluntary sector, aligned to the following streams:

  • The Conference Theme – Politics, Partnerships, and Power: Raising Questions for Civil Society
  • Diversity, (in)equality and inclusion
  • The Covid-19 pandemic and voluntary action
  • Democracy and grassroots voluntary action
  • Volunteering, participation and social action
  • Advances in theory and methods
  • Resources, including funding, fundraising, philanthropy, social enterprise, and social investment
  • Organisational management and governance, including law and regulation
  • Historical perspectives on civil society, the voluntary sector and volunteering
  • Measuring civil society: outcomes, impact and social value
  • New Researchers stream

You don’t need to present a paper to attend.

Plenary sessions

Alongside the paper sessions and workshops, the programme will include plenary sessions, with an exciting line up of keynote presentations. These will include the opportunity for roundtable sessions where participants will have the opportunity to meet and share ideas with new and experienced researchers in their field, developing social and professional networks and agendas for future research and practice.

We are delighted to announce that Professor Angela Eikenberry (University of Nebraska at Omaha) is our first confirmed plenary speaker. Professor Eikenberry is a world-renowned figure in nonprofit research, and a previous President of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA). She has written and edited books such as Giving Circles: Philanthropy, Voluntary Association, and Democracy and Reframing Nonprofit Organizations: Democracy, Inclusion, and Social Change, and articles such as ‘#Metoo/#Aidtoo and creating an intersectional feminist NGO sector’.

More plenary speakers will be confirmed soon.

New Researchers Stream

The Conference is an ideal opportunity for new or early career researcher looking to meet, discuss and present their research with other new researchers in a supportive setting. A special series of parallel sessions will be run as part of the conference for ‘new’ or early career researchers. Attendance at this part of the conference is subsidised and is intended for all early career researchers in the field of voluntary sector/volunteering studies, whether postgraduate students or those working/volunteering in the voluntary sector. For more details about how the New Researchers Stream works, please visit here:


Best paper prizes

Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize

Presenters who submit a full paper by the 25 August deadline will automatically be considered for the Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize for best paper, which includes a £500 prize.

Duncan Scott New Researchers Prize

Participants in the New Researchers sessions who submit a full paper by the 25 August deadline will automatically be considered for the Duncan Scott New Researchers Prize for best paper, which includes a £100 prize.

Voluntary Sector Review Best Article Prize

The conference will also see the second Voluntary Sector Review Best Article Prize awarded, with the authors of the winning article receiving a joint £300 prize from the publisher Policy Press and VSSN.

Want to find out more?

Booking for the conference is now open: https://store.shu.ac.uk/conferences-and-events/central-services/events/voluntary-sector-and-volunteering-research-conference-2022

In the meantime, you can email us for more information: vsvrconference@gmail.com, or you can visit our website: www.vssn.org.uk.