The ‘big society’ and volunteering: Janus-faced social policy
Hancock, Lynn; Hardwick, Louise (2012)

by Louise Hardwick and Lynn Hancock, Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, University of Liverpool


This paper critically assesses the development of discourses which have claimed to place the voluntary sector and volunteering at the ‘heart’ of social policy delivery against the backdrop of radical welfare reforms, the restructuring of state provision and systematic withdrawal of funding in the period since the election of the Conservative-led Coalition government in 2010. It traces and explores the contradictions that are becoming evident between governmental claims and the enactment and implementation of these policies, their impact and harms which remain neglected in the government’s dominant claims-making process. We investigate how projects, initiatives and voluntary activities are claimed and disclaimed as part of the ‘big society’ project, and how needs are redefined and re-classified in line with governmental priorities. These tensions will be explored through an analysis of the seemingly straightforward agendas around volunteering. While ostensibly uncomplicated, what volunteering means, the concept of voluntarism, who undertakes volunteering activities, the beneficiaries and roles of volunteers and the place of volunteering in the broader context of community and welfare provision and state transformation deserves critical appraisal in the current setting. Our work draws upon experiences set in the City of Liverpool (one of the former ‘vanguard’ Big Society pilot areas), documentary and policy analysis. Louise HardwickLouise Hardwick is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology. She is also the Chair of the charity Interchange based in the department. This acts as a broker between students doing dissertation projects and non-profit community organisations seeking research/work projects. Lynn HancockDr Lynn Hancock is Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at the University of Liverpool, a member of the Crime, Order(ing), Urban Change and Social Justice research cluster in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology and the Children’s Rights, Welfare and Social Justice cluster in the School of Law and Social Justice. Her main research areas are in urban criminology, with particular reference to urban change, ‘crime’ and criminalisation; the politics of community safety; the criminalisation of ‘place’, exclusion, and discourses on urban regeneration, crime and social control; and lay public involvement in and responses to criminal justice. Following her book, Community, Crime and Disorder: Safety and Regeneration in Urban Neighbourhoods (Palgrave), she has authored and co-authored numerous book chapters, articles and reports on the relationships, interactions, discontinuities and dilemmas between theories, policies and practices in each of these areas.

Presented at