Voluntary work as the new leisure: perspectives of older women cancer sufferers

Watts, Jacqueline H. (2010). Voluntary work as the new leisure: perspectives of older women cancer sufferers. In: XVII World Congress of Sociology, 11-17 Jul 2010, Goteborg, Sweden.


Voluntary work can be distinguished from paid employment in that it is freely undertaken and is often motivated by altruism. The application of specialist knowledge to some volunteering has prompted recognition of ‘skilled volunteering’ as serious leisure, giving rise to the concept of the ‘leisure career’. For retired people the attributes associated with employment, such as social utility, inform the role of volunteer. This paper discusses ethnographic participant observation research conducted at a cancer drop-in facility. Data revealed the importance of maintaining a congruent and socially useful ‘self’; for some this meant that retirement as a time of freedom and leisure had been traded for a set of obligations in volunteer roles. This paper focuses on the voluntary efforts of a number of older women in a range of settings and reveals how the value of ‘other-centredness’, even in the face of deteriorating health, contributes to personal ‘wellness’ and social inclusion. Although leisure in western scholarship has been defined as discretionary time that is free of obligation or duty, the research reported herein argues that a sense of duty to ‘the other’ in the form of committed and regular voluntary activity contributes to personal well-being and enhances quality of life.

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