VSSN event: A one day conference on community and voluntary organisations and polarisation #VSSN_Aber | 24 May 2023, Aberystwyth University

Christopher Damm |

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24th May 2023 (9:00 am – 4:00 pm)

The role of community and voluntary organisations in polarisation in local communities

The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK

Full details: Eventbrite Registration Information

Questions? Email cwps@aber.ac.uk


“A high level of polarisation can be destabilising and dangerous. It’s this we have to counteract.” Goldsworthy et al. 2021 p.9

“Enabling communities to respond more effectively to the challenges that they face in the contemporary context; developing collective strategies for social justice and community solidarity; and promoting the politics of hope rather than exacerbating the politics of hate. These are ambitious aims and not without their own inherent tensions.” Marjorie Mayo 2021 p.71

We are delighted to announce that Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) and the Wales Instituted of Social and Economic Research and Data (WISERD) will jointly host a symposium to explore the role of community and voluntary organisations in polarisation in local communities, discussing:

  • inclusion and exclusion within the community and voluntary sector,
  • community cohesion, its drivers and obstacles,
  • polarisation and political conflict in local civil society,
  • community innovations for promoting unity and/or deliberative democracy,
  • the roles that community and voluntary organisations play in reinforcing and/or resisting polarisation.



This is a hybrid event.

09:00 – 10:00 Pre-conference collegiate breakfast & networking session (face to face)

10:00 – 10:30 Welcome, introductions and keynote speaker (online/hybrid)

10:30 – 12:00 Presentations and discussion  (online/hybrid)

12:00 – 13:15 Lunch & meet the community & voluntary organisations (face to face)

13:15 – 14:45 Presentations and discussion (online/hybrid)

14:45 – 16:00 Final dialogue encounters & collegiate cakes (face to face)


The event is part of a regular series of VSSN day events and part of the dissemination and involvement activities of WISERD project “Populism, Conflict and Political Polarisation”.

A growing theoretical concern of voluntary sector studies is to challenge the presumption that voluntary and charitable activity is always imbued with a social good (Grotz and Leonard, 2022, pp 57-76). Theorists are beginning to recognise civil society organisations whose collective activities perpetuate division or conflict (Edwards 2014). Yet, grassroots communities can also be viewed as the loci through which polarisation and populism is resisted (Ife 2021). Polarisation theorists draw on democracy theory in political science, intergroup contact theory in psychology alongside analysis of how attitudes can be altered to identify strategies for overcoming societal divides. (Goldsworthy et al. 2022).


The format for this day conference will respond to the specific dimension of polarisation that can divide academic expertise from the wider society and also works with face to face, online and hybrid options. The day conference will be facilitated promoting dialogue between academics and voluntary sector practitioners from a broad range of civil society organisations, recognising their dual expertise and drawing on inclusive and participative involvement methods, thus putting theory concerning how to break down divides into practice. “Minds shall be open, conversations shall be kind, and different knowledges shall have equal value” (Locke and Grotz, 2022, p:191).


This VSSN day event will be supported by:



Edwards, M. (2014). Civil Society, Cambridge, Polity.

Goldsworthy, A., Osborne ,L. and Chesterfield, A. (2022) Poles Apart: Why People Turn Against Each Other, and How to Bring Them Together, London: Penguin.

Grotz, J. and Leonard, R. (2022) Volunteer Involvement: An Introduction to Theory and Practice, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ife, J. (2021) Right-wing populism and community development: beyond modernity and liberal democracy, Kenny, S., Ife, J. Westoby, P. (eds.) Populism, Democracy and Community Development, Bristol: Policy Press, p.39-54

Locke, M. and Grotz, J. eds. (2022) Volunteering, research and the test of experience, Norwich: UEA Publishing Project.

​Mayo M (2021) Community development and popular education in populist times, Kenny, S., Ife, J. Westoby, P. (eds.) Populism, Democracy and Community Development, Bristol: Policy Press, p.71-88