Local volunteering in protracted crises: a case study from Burundi

Fadel, Bianca (2022) Local volunteering in protracted crises: a case study from Burundi. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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This research critically analyses the roles of local volunteering in surviving and being in a protracted crisis. Based on qualitative data collected through an ethnographic and participatory approach in Burundi, East Africa, the study questions traditional explanations about volunteering centred on service-delivery and giver-recipient dichotomies by focusing on agency and reciprocity at community level. This research aims to conceptualise the practice of local volunteering during a protracted crisis and understand the implications for humanitarian and development discourses and practices. Most of the existing volunteering scholarship has been framed by siloed humanitarian or development accounts, often from/within global North settings. Despite their critical roles, the presence of local volunteers in protracted crises is often assumed in practice and obscured in the literature. The study addresses this gap through an in-depth discussion of local volunteering experiences in a global South context where conflict and socio-political instability have persisted over time and deeply affected people’s livelihoods in multiple ways. The analysis of the Burundi case study thus develops a critical conceptualisation of volunteering that reveals how it does not fit established humanitarian or development languages and frameworks but rather transcends and destabilises them as volunteers work across and between such spaces at community level during a protracted crisis.

The thesis makes three main contributions to knowledge and existing debates in this field. First, it reveals the rhythms and routines of local volunteering in urban and rural areas and the fluidity between and within these settings to explain how volunteers living through a protracted crisis perform activities that transcend siloed narratives of humanitarianism and development work. However, rather than a silver bullet solution to social problems, volunteering is also constrained by social dynamics and potentially reproduces existing inequalities and hierarchies, such as those related to gender. Second, it explores volunteering in relation to persistent and widespread vulnerabilities during a protracted crisis and how volunteers are in similar positions to those they support at community level, complicating distinctions between ‘givers’ and ‘recipients’. In this context, the roles of volunteer groups and income in volunteer spaces become critical to understand its livelihoods implications. Finally, using Freirean lenses, the study analyses volunteering as an expression of agency and togetherness, a process that is rooted in culture and identity, particularly in terms of faith and belonging in the Burundian case. Overall, the thesis argues that volunteering emerges from the severe vulnerability experienced in local contexts during protracted crises but simultaneously addresses it in ways that cannot be instrumentalised under service-delivery and giver-recipient dichotomies. The research, therefore, calls for relocating volunteering in its particular social, cultural and geographical spaces, and recognising how these spaces are shaped by but also challenge established humanitarian and development discourses and practices.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: voluntary labour, humanitarian action, development work, East Africa, Global South
Subjects: L700 Human and Social Geography
Department: Faculties > Engineering and Environment > Geography and Environmental Sciences
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 15 Mar 2023 11:52
Last Modified: 15 Mar 2023 12:00
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/51541

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